Son of a Gun

Company: Sidewalk
Devised/writer: Devised by the company and scripted by John Burrows
Director: John Burrows
Cast: Sara Boyes, Norma Cohen, Rob Goodfellow, Ken Gregson, Guy Groen, Tash Fairbanks. Hilary Price took over from Tash Fairbanks
Year: 1976

Son of a Gun was considered to be a highly important and successful play by the company. It was about women’s oppression in relation to class, sexuality and the male Left. An artistic evocation of the politics of the time, it struck a chord with many of the generation who were seeking to identify the roots of oppression.The creation of the play was as important for the cast as it was for the audience. They explored turning points in their own lives, their interests and preoccupations, devising material from which John Burrows wove stories into a play based on the life of Tash Fairbanks, one of the cast members.

Tash, remembering the time, writes:

Well, we were all pondering ideas with John Burrows one day on the subject for a new show. Someone suggested the life story of one of us. Ken ran with it first, as he was the eldest and had been in the army, there seemed a lot of material there. And, to be honest, he was a wee bit self-obsessed! I think it was Norma who insisted it be a woman’s story. Then the working class element came up, and that left me!

It was a scary prospect, being the only lesbian in the collective. Particularly as my private life had recently gone all to pot, I was living in a fascistly, anti-male squat for want of anywhere else, and my Mum had heart disease. Shit hit the fan in the initial stages during discussions over homosexuality and whether or not it was ‘normal’. Yes, indeed, even though we were all well to the left of centre, these were the dark days of the Seventies!

Trust – never big on it myself – anyway, it did become an issue for me during the making of Son of a Gun! I guess I felt I’d been encouraged to put myself out on a limb without the weight of the tree to support me. But the others may have a very different recollection and, as I say, I was fragile at the time.

Having said all that, I’m immensely proud of it as a piece of theatre and of the generosity with which the others played it. John did a wonderful job on the script, giving it a lightness and humour that allowed me to feel that maybe I hadn’t messed up too badly in my life. We probably had our greatest audiences at the Melkweg (a huge multi-media arts venue cum dope cafe in Amsterdam). The lowest point was our week at the ICA, when my Mum died. I struggled on for a couple of nights facing Norma as my Mum, then developed severe abdominal pains and we had to cancel the rest of the week. By the way, because of Son of a Gun I was nominated Best New Actress of 1976 by the now defunct Plays and Players magazine. But Julie Covington pipped me to the post for her role in Evita. There you go. (October, 2013)

The play was episodic in structure and had twenty three scenes which detail the main character’s life from 1957-1970. Six actors performed forty characters – Tasha Fairbanks played Brenda and the other actors played multiple roles. Norma Cohen welcomed the chance to play many characters with a wide variety of ages. Guy Groen particularly remembers playing a drug-using transvestite Dominque Lavell, and that this part caused controversy amongst some gay activists. Hilary Price, straight out of drama college, took over from Tasha in 1977, was especially pleased to get the part in such a successful play. Clair Chapwell asked if she could join the company as she was so impressed by the play. She thought it ‘incredible, I loved it’. She knew it was the company she ‘wanted to be with.’

Son of a Gun was performed in some of London’s fringe theatres in 1976 and received generally favourable reviews in mainstream newspapers. The play went on to tour in Britain and Holland where it was performed twice at the Melkweg a leading counter-cultural arts centre in Amsterdam. Son of a Gun, ‘cemented a new trend and an awakening of feminism’ at the Melkweg and in Holland generally’. (Guy Holland formerly Groen)

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