Les Oeufs Malades

Company Name: Les Oeufs Malades

Established:1976

Founders: Gerard Bell, Jessica Higgs, Bryony Lavery

Reason: To produce a double bill of Bryony Lavery plays

Current Status: Disbanded 1981

Area of Work: New writing

Policy: To produce the plays of Bryony Lavery

Structure: Run by common consensus with company members undertaking the administrative and funding tasks as required and when available

Based: London

Funding: Arts Council project funding was received for productions from Helen and Her Friends onwards but the company was never constituted

Performance Venues: Young Vic Studio, Action Space, Warehouse Theatre Rotherhithe (aka Crunchy Frog), Oval House, Old Red Lion, Kings Head, National tours, Edinburgh Festival, Dublin and Holland

Audiences: Typical London fringe, and small-scale touring audiences of the period

Company work and process: Les Oeufs Malades was formed in 1976 when Gerard Bell and Bryony Lavery were working for Incubus theatre company. Bryony had written a short two-hander play called Sharing which Gerard and his friend Jessica Higgs asked if they could perform. Bryony agreed and the three set about rehearsing. An accompanying piece was written, I Was Too Young At The Time To Understand Why My Mother Was Crying, and they were first produced as a double bill at the Warehouse Theatre, Rotherhithe, or ‘Crunchy Frog’ as it was affectionately known. There followed performaces at the opening season of plays at Action Space (now Drill hall) entitled The Festival of the Audience, and at Oval House Upstairs under the company name ‘Les Oeufs Malades’. The much feted La Grande Eugene was performing at the Roundhouse at the time to sell out houses and it was thought rather inspired to come with up a name that implied the company might be French.  Favourite French words of the company such as as ‘oeuf’ and ‘boeuf’ morphed into Les Oeufs Malades.  The original program was in French with a coined quote attributed to Baudelaire in which it was stated, ‘Quand les oeufs malades restent sur la table a petit dejeuner, tous le monde est degoute.’ The French connection was dropped soon after but not before Ned Chaillet in The Times observed, ‘Les Oeufs Malades…borrowing their name from Baudelaire…’

Further productions followed: Grandmother’s Footsteps (1977), The Catering Service (1977), Helen and Her Friends (1978), Bag (1979) and Family Album (1980). All the plays were written and directed by Bryony Lavery. Company members and performers were drawn from a small pool of actors who were also close friends, most notably Gerard Bell, Su Elliott, Jessica Higgs and Pippa Sparkes all of whom, with the exception of Jessica, had worked together in Incubus. The style was comic, oftentimes surreal comic, at other times darkly comic, and very reflective of the lives and modes of expressions common to those involved. All of the pieces were performed in London, The Catering Service, Bag and Family Album also toured nationally. Helen and Her Friends was performed at the Lantaren, Rotterdam as part of their Festival of Death, and Family Album at Projects Arts, Dublin.

Reviews:
Sharing and I Was Too Young at the Time to Understand Why My Mother Was Crying
‘…at Edinburgh a company like Les Oeufs Malades would have been hailed as a discovery.’ (The Times, 1976)
Grandmother’s Footsteps
‘.. contains a quick, glancing, surreal wit…’ (Time Out, 1977)
‘..shows a developing and original style… Miss Lavery;s talent is for the oblique, the unrealistic.’ (The Times, 1977)
The Catering Service
‘..a valuable piece of theatre…confident strength of the acting…’ (The Scotsman 1977)
‘…as disciplined and as chilling a piece of theatre as you are likely to come across anywhere…adds a new dimension to both theatre of politics and the theatre of experiment.’ (The Stage 1977)
Helen and Her Friends
‘…smart, tart production…beautifully acted.. alternatively funny and moving..’ Time Out 1978 ‘…finely written, sensitively directed and beautifully acted…Helen and Her Friends haunts the mind, but it needs no exorcism.’ (The Stage 1978)
Bag
‘The play throws up numerous questions relating to the nature of friendship while observing with consistent accuracy and occasional brilliance, the gruesome minutiae of holiday mishaps.’ (Time Out 1979)

Productions:

ProductionVenueDate
Sharing and I was too young at the time to understand why my mother was crying
Writer/director: Bryony Lavery
Cast: Gerard Bell, Jessica Higgs
Warehouse Theatre, Rotherhithe
(aka Crunchy Frog)
Action Space (later Drill Hall)
Oval House Upstairs
1976
Grandmother's Footsteps
Writer/director: Bryony Lavery
Cast: Su Elliott, Pippa Sparkes
Music:Jessica Higgs
Kings Head
Oval House Upstairs
Edinburgh Festival and tour
1977
The Catering Service
Writer/director: Bryony Lavery
Cast: Gerard Bell, Steph Bramwell, Su Elliott, Colin Marsh, *Pippa Sparkes, *Roger (surname unknown)
*Later Diana Goodhand and John Rawlinson
Edinburgh Festival
National tour
Action Space (later Drill Hall)
1977
Helen and Her Friends
Writer/director: Bryony Lavery
Cast: Su Elliott, Jessica Higgs, Pippa Sparkes
Music: Jessica Higgs
Kings Head
Lantaren, Rotterdam
Oval House Upstairs
1978
Bag
Writer/director: Bryony Lavery
Cast: Gerard Bell, Diana Goodhand, *Su Elliott,
Jessica Higgs, *Ella Wilder
*Later Steph Bramwell and Janet Behan
Old Red Lion
Young Vic Studio
National tour
1979 - 80
Family Album
Writer/director: Bryony Lavery
Cast: Gerard Bell, Roger Blake, Lou Wakefield,
Diane Adderly, Sally Greenwood, Janet Behan
(Dublin)Sue Davies (Director) with Gerard Bell, Diana Goodhand, Janet Behan, Bryony Lavery
(ICA)Diane Adderly, Janet Behan, Gerard Bell, Roger Blake, Diana Goodhand, Lou Wakefield
Revival of Helen & Her Friends (lunchtime alongside Family Album at the ICA)
Director: Gerard Bell
Actors: Diane Adderly, Diana Goodhand, Janet Behan
NB Family Album was originally a Les Oeufs Malades production (1980) and was continued by Bryony Lavery's Extraordinary Productions in 1981.
National tour
Gate Theatre, Dublin
ICA
1980 - 81

Interviewee reference: Bryony Lavery

Links: 
See The Wandsworth WarmersIncubus, Su Elliott, Pippa Sparkes

Existing archive material: Original photographs, scripts, programmes and articles are held by original company members.

Reason for ending: Les Oeufs Malades was disbanded in 1981 when Bryony Lavery’s Extraordinary Productions was formed by Bryony Lavery and David Jones.

Acknowledgements: This page has been written and constructed by Jessica Higgs (co-founder) with thanks to Gerard Bell, Su Elliott, Bryony Lavery and Pippa Sparkes. November 2013