John Abulafia on Incubus

Incubus Theatre 1968 to 1971

Incubus Theatre 1968 to 1971

Incubus Theatre has its origins in a 1968 production of Kafka’s Metamorphosis that John Abulafia wrote and directed while he was at Sussex University. The part of Josef  K was created by Paddy Fletcher, then studying at Brighton Art College. John says of Paddy, ‘He was the most extraordinary, inventive performer, and a wonderful creative collaborator. I had a clear vision of the kind of theatre I wanted to create but everyone else told me that it was impossible to stage a play where a human turns into an insect. Paddy’s response was that if I didn’t give him the part he would never speak to me again. He tried any and every distortion of his body to create Josef K: he brought to life Kafka’s vision of a tormented creature paying the price for the sins of his family. This Metamorphosis was before Berkoff and before anyone used the term Physical Theatre.

Metamorphosis took the 1968 NUS/ Sunday Times drama festival by storm, was invited to the Oxford Playhouse, and then to a series of other London venues.

John and Paddy, together with Shell Summerson, who was also involved in theatre at Sussex, decided that they should take this work further, and so Incubus was born. The Incubus company members either studied at Sussex University or Brighton Art College. The company included the actor and director Ian Giles, Olly Williams, Mike Prescott, Libby Humphreys and Iain Butterworth. The plays were seen in various London fringe venues and were also invited to various festivals, like the Sheffield Theatre Festival and The Cider Press, Dartington.

Shell Summerson directed John’s play An Account of the Marriage between August Strindberg and Harriet Bosse and wrote and directed a number of other Incubus plays, including Mime Play with Paddy Fletcher, performed at venues like the Brighton Combination and the Royal Court’s Theatre Upstairs. Shell also fulfilled the much needed role of administrator.

In these early days, Incubus’ work fused two styles of creativity: the content-driven intellectual rigour of the University with the flair, physicality and expressiveness rooted in Art School. Both elements in the company sought to push the boundaries of theatre.

The most complete fusion of these two approaches to theatre came in 1970 when John and the entire Incubus company created a theatre piece that used movement, sound, chanting, text and choreography to portray the birth and development of human consciousness. The show was titled Brain. It was filmed by the BBC.

After serving three years as Artistic Director, John, with Shell (now Shell Abulafia), received an invitation from the Arts Council to start a new touring company to serve the Mid Pennine area of Lancashire and Yorkshire. This was TheatreMobile. Paddy took over as Artistic Director of Incubus.

In 1975, John Abulafia, who had now been appointed Artistic Director of the Pool Theatre in Edinburgh invited Incubus to perform a range of plays at the Edinburgh Festival.

John Abulafia and Rachael Summerson (Shell Abulafia) 2016

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