Beauty and the Beast

Company Name: Welfare State International
Location: Aberystwyth Arts Centre and a tip in Burnley
Year: 1973

Dave Cunliffe, Flowers of the Imagination on a Burnley Rubbish Tip (Peace News, June 1973):

‘A £3,000 Arts Council-supported living tableau and surrealistic mystery tour was planned for the Serpentine Gallery until the Department of the Environment forbade the erection of an indispensable circus tent on its East Lawn. “We use it as a sculptural object to define and enhance space as a symbol and a containing canvas, not purely or merely as a temporary shelter” (John Fox). So London’s Serpentine Gallery, with up to 3,000 weekend visitors, was left with photographic film and tape documentation of what it missed.

Department of Environment bureaucrats happily supported the Festival of Light with £2,000 toilets but with fiendish scheming, drove Lancelot Quail to a Burnley rubbish tip, amid caravans and naked children playing in fiercely flashing sun.
Your very own reporter knew that this was an organic theatre, involving total environment, drawing from folk-lore, myth and tradition. A pantomime celebration of modern alchemy. Fusion of hip mythology, counter-culture and ancient tradition. Involving a moving mosaic of cripples, fairground buskers, space ships, scarecrows, spirits, ghosts, torturers, mummers, devils, hells angels, mermaids, puppets, dragons, gods, sun kings, demon buskers. Contemporary Grunwaldian panoramic magic thing. Yet still not quite prepared for such a powerful primeval turn on.

Welfare State approached a truly living theatre situation and experience by moving outside most restraining creative confines, to operate simultaneously on many levels. Communication, spontaneous and flexible; using conceptual imagery to go beyond it. That is effecting a post-symbolic language by suggesting (paradoxically through crude simplification) essential roots of collective myths and cultural archetypes. A controlled improvisation, capable of exploiting the innermost recesses of mind and igniting long forgotten racial memories. This, of course, is convoluted descriptive gymnastics of that best directly experienced and a complication of essential simplicity.

Helmeted sentry and joyous carnival band. Incredible beauty; music drifting around the kids from a bongo wizard. Grounded cloth-capped Icarus, leading us amazed and delighted pilgrim followers through a wondrous shanty town labyrinth. recreating my childhood fantasies, dream visions and psychedelic excursions.
In a laughing gas kaleidoscope of magical fairground booths, inhabited by grotesquely deranged human creatures, technological monsters, mad barber, spider-trapped dwarfish demon, green-faced savage wildly spitting from his tower, one seat cinema, berserk tap dancer, holy fools and lunatic saints. Beauty and the Beast, the name of this game, has a fluid plot which incorporates chicken worshippers in nearby hen runs, rubber men dwelling in the local Pirelli factor and the Bellings tribe of electric fire worshippers.

Welfare State is not an experimental theatrical company as usually understood but rather a journey unto the unknown and undiscovered ways of living and creative communication. Still unsurely evolving in various and diverse directions (farmers and nomads). Growing in a natural soil which can even nurture glorious flowers of imagination on a Burnley rubbish tip.’

Time Out Review, May, 1973:

‘…the ten-day ceremony-festival planned is being held on their site in Burnley, Lancashire, where the group’s been living in caravans since late last year. Here they are planning three afternoon shows and one evening a day, plus a procession planned on Monday through the town centre.

The Welfare State use the whole site for their performance from the roadway in. The show is, eerily, all around you. At the far end, on one slope, a wrecked aeroplane pours smoke from its fuselage. Masked figures peer silently out of a ramshakle hut halfway up an opposite slope. In between the two is the main site area. The audience that gathers is conducted round it as if it’s a guided tour of the Welfare Stately home of the actors’ minds. First into the ‘Labyrinth’, a decaying mass of junk lived in by pent-up crazed individuals, each one with his own obsessive occupation: a thin greenish man with Dr Phibes eyes dissecting carcasses of small animals, an ageing girlish tap-dancer dancing with incessant weary roguishness in a space like a wardrobe, a manic ‘camp commandant’ shouting imprecations from a roof. It’s claustrophobic and appalling. By stages there’s a progression to the Big Top. Inside the tent there’s total contrast  – air after oppression, possible flight after crippledness. It’s a large area, filled with sand and ice and a few large glowing masks. Within the circle of Ice that’s set around the central tent pole sits a quiet beautiful woman, sometimes singing, sometimes weaving.

The show is about the juxtaposition and conflict of these two world; and about the way in which the inmates of the first try       Icarus-like, to reach the second. It’s an amazing and urgent show, a haunting mixture of Brueghel, ‘Night of the LIving Dead’, Don Quixote and much else. If you can by any means get together the fare to Burnley you should go before it ends on Monday.’

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