Red Ladder: Further company information

This information has been drawn together from Carole Mitchell’s interviews with former company members, Steve Trafford and Elizabeth Mansfield.

When the original members of Red Ladder got together they were very much inspired by the events of 1968; they came from different backgrounds but all were politically motivated and felt theatre was the way to get involved with the issues that were affecting their lives ie housing shortage, unemployment etc. They were a true collective where the work advanced through discussion with every member of the group. There was no hierarchy; administrators were as important as actors, directors and designers – in fact administrators were very important members since their role in fostering links with trade unions, local communities and the like, was vital to Red Ladder’s success. Although they were a collective they did develop a division of labour within the company.

Artistically they used a Brechtian style, with cartoon humour and songs to get their message across. With the shows It Makes Yer Sick (1975-1976) and Anybody Sweating (1976-77) they employed a cabaret style as an experiment. These shows played mostly in Working Men’s Clubs and often provoked heated discussions with audiences afterwards. Steve Trafford recalled a performance of Anybody Sweating at the Black Watch club in Scotland which contained a song about the Irish question – a pro-Republic song – which did not go down well, so much so that the bingo was turned on before the end of the song! There was much discussion in the company about the cabaret style (with some members being negative about it) and in the end they decided it was not the best for them; plays were better as people identified with characters. Steve also recalled that It Makes Yer Sick was reviewed by Michael Billington when it played at Camden Town Hall in 1975 – the one and only time he reviewed any of their shows!

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