Julie Holledge Topics List

Julie (Jules) Holledge

Topics List taken from her interview with Susan Croft, July 2011, at the Drill Hall, recorded by Jessica Higgs
Video and audio extracts edited by Jessica Higgs

Background and university
Brought up in London suburbs
Mother trained as actor before the war but never worked as one
There was always theatre in family –
Jules decided at 9 she wanted to be an actor
Father ran an electrical wholesale business
He was not interested in theatre and wanted Jules to go to university
Parents moved to Wiltshire.
Jules ended up doing an undergraduate BA in drama at Bristol University
Whilst there decided she wanted to be a director
8 of them on the course- the assumption was that they would go into theatre,
taught by people from Old Vic, but no understanding of how students might
go about getting work in industry
Jules could have gone on to do the postgraduate year at Bristol Old Vic drama school
but went to work instead
Already realised conventional path was not for her
Was influenced by the work of Ingmar Bergman, Peter Brook
and especially Ariane Mnouchkine and 1789
Used experimental ideas whilst still a student
Training was quite radical –  Meyerhold, Left tradition,
German, Russian through to Brecht
and also psychoanalysis
Not directly involved in student politics
Went to university in 1968, but definitely in politics in the work,
directing pieces on Vietnam, used Bulgakov’s work,
acted opposite US draft-dodger in student Miss Julie
Getting started
Applied and got an assistant director job at Theatre Workshop in Edinburgh
It wasn’t what she thought it would be and she left
Was shortlisted for Thames TV directing placement attached to a rep
Last of five. Interview panel of 25 with two women on
it (including Joan Knight, Perth Theatre)
They prided themselves that they had two candidates who hadn’t been to Oxbridge.
All their questions to Jules were about how she would deal with work issues as a woman
Went as a performer in TIE team at Northcott Theatre in Exeter
Influenced by Jane Howells who was Artistic Director there:
she had learnt from Joan Littlewood
Another influence had been Veronica Sherborne who had taught Jane Howells Laban technique
This was radical theatre
Their second show was A Perfect Woman (1973)
In the end it was written by a man who was a West Country TV writer
but originally it was going to be by Pam Gems..
Along with Sweetie Pie at Octagon, Bolton these were the first works about
women of the period (Susan points out Vagina Rex and the Gas Oven was in 1969)
They were making their own work- failed attempt at a Mike Leigh-style piece,
shows about unemployment and racism
Work more anarchic than Brian Way [Theatre Centre], not proscenium arch stuff, very interactive
As at Coventry TIE, they would have an issue list, brainstorm ideas and
vote as to which one to focus on
Jane Howells very much supported TIE team, and when they didn’t want
to perform in the Northcott Christmas show –they thought their work too
serious to be involved – she agreed to this, if they organised and
took out a tour of A Perfect Woman which they did
They worked collectively. Jo Cameron Brown was in company,
plus those she can’t recall the surnames of: director John, Chris
and 2 actors from South Africa, escaping apartheid
Toured around Devon and Cornwall working at primary and secondary schools

Coventry TIE
The TIE companies of Bolton and Coventry and their WRP
[Workers Revolutionary Party] politics were very much in control of
the SCYPT [Standing Conference of Young People’s Theatre] meetings
and were the ‘elite’
Jules realised Coventry was where she wanted to be and got a job with TIE company
Heavy political times. Work fantastic
Audition was not so much about your politics but about how collaborative you could be
Members then included David Holman, David Pammenter, Sue Johnston and Maggie Wilkinson
They’d already done Minimata and Power
Company was deeply connected to the WRP
Jules had gone from touring Devon and Cornwall to picket-lines in Coventry at 6am
In theatre groups at time women were saying they wanted to do work about their issues
Story told to her by Libby Mason [company member at time] about them doing
Escape Into the Bathysphere
Company said it would be, very exciting if a woman could play the Pilot and
be sitting there doing her nails
This was the level of awareness of the time
Jules joined the WRP for 3 weeks
Libby and Jules started attending a women’s consciousness raising group in
Leamington Spa where there were a number of Warwick academics
such as Veronica Beach and Catherine Hall
This was a different socialist feminist consciousness
which they tried to take back into the company, this was in 1974
Mainly remembers the politics not the shows
Recalls taking a show into special schools, which then could mean
anything from kids from a borstal to those with learning difficulties
No disagreements within company and work itself but real tension from
outside between those who were WRP members and those who were not
Later when Jules was working within Equity there was a range of political persuasions
– International Marxist Group, Maoists, Socialist Workers’ Party
At Coventry standing on the picket-lines in the morning and selling
WRP paper at night affected the work

London, PhD
Left Coventry after a year and decided she wanted to do a PhD
Applied for a grant to get a scholarship (in those days were means- tested
and you had to work for 3 years after university before applying)
Got grant and relocated to London
Libby joined Red Ladder and Jules joined sister company Broadside Mobile Workers Theatre
Desire to do feminist piece
Studies at Bristol University were very much from a male aesthetic

Broadside Mobile Workers Theatre
Doesn’t know much about the split in Red Ladder that led to formation
of Broadside as it was before her time with them
Richard [Stourac] really knew his Left theatre work aesthetic
Jules and Richard had same PhD supervisor and Richard wrote a book on
German and Russian agit-prop theatre
Kathy [Kathleen McCreery] brought American theatre knowledge with her
Jules found this a very stimulating  environment to work in, although not feminist
They did a show called The Lump which toured building sites and was about the building industry
Glad to be working alongside the Trade Unions
They also did a show about the aerospace industry
Thinks the audiences were very patient with them as sweet people who really cared
Story of Augusto Boal working in Brazil doing show with prop guns for
revolutionaries who had real guns
Union members toured with them to the building sites and signed up
new members along the way. Sites were semi-unionised
Felt they were making a difference
Set was a scaffold. Looked very much like German and  Russian agit-prop theatre
Iconic, archetypal, bosses in top hats, tableaux, music, basic information, Brechtian
Style grabbed attention, very gestural, summed up class positions
Shows devised using Kathleen McCreery and Richard Stourac’s knowledge
Jules performed ‘The Maintenance Engineer’ a song by a very
well known British socio-feminist singer

Recreation Ground
Joined Recreation Ground to do a show during the month
before beginning her PhD
Frances Rifkin’s company – Maoist
It was 1974, anti-fascist show
When rehearsals began there was no script
About Cable Street and 1930s fascists because of the National Front at the time in Britain
In Bradford the show was stopped by the National Front
Set on a picket-line, Jules knitted behind a stove for most of show
Well-intentioned show. Naturalistic/realistic show very different from Broadside
Company included Derek Thompson, Ian Milton
All work with companies was paid and under Equity contracts
so companies must have been receiving Arts Council grants

PhD years, Writing
Received a scholarship for 3 years
This was the time of Sheila Rowbotham’s Hidden from History
On women in theatre Richard Findlater’s Player Queens was around but little else
Fidelis [Morgan] didn’t publish her Female Wits: Women Playwrights of the Restoration
until Jules published Innocent Flowers – both in 1981
The only women discussed at Bristol had been actors and characters in plays
Jules decided to write her thesis on the
‘Representation of women in Ibsen, Chekhov and Shaw’
Began reading up on Shaw which took her to the suffrage movement,
which in turn led her to the Actresses Franchise League (AFL)
This inspired Jules to change tack and spend 3 years reading
newspaper articles on women’s suffrage movement to find
information on the AFL
Found plays and ads for plays, went to British Library to research,
Mander & Mitcheson and the Fawcett Library

Activism and Equity Women’s Committee
At same time she helped with admin for the Feminist Theatre Study Group
which met every Sunday at her home in Islington, their version of a
consciousness-raising group for women working in theatre
Set it up with Anne Engel, Stacey Charlesworth and
Maggie Wilkinson. 20 – 30 women would turn up
Picketed West End theatres with leaflets asking ‘Do you want
to see women represented other than men’s wives, mothers,
lovers and daughters?’
Took the fight to Equity and that’s how the Women’s Sub-committee got formed
Did some suffrage plays with Sidewalk How the Vote Was Won etc.
Anne Engel, Stacey Charlesworth, Maggie Wilkinson and Jules thought they’d like
to do some work  together and that’s how Mrs Worthington’s Daughters was formed
The company premise was to do plays by and about women from the past
Notion of developing their own theatre tradition and history
Study group meetings were attended by a range of women
working in alternative theatre at that time included Beryl and the Perils,
Caryl Churchill, Jill Posener,  people from Women’s Theatre Group, Monstrous Regiment
[Susan mentions the article Julie Holledge wrote for Spare Rib at the time
‘What the actress said to the director’]
Jules proposed the adoption of the National Abortion Campaign at an Equity AGM
Disappointment that it wasn’t supported by the Left – especially mentions the WRP
They still held the notion that the women’s lobby was a bourgeois diversion
End of her interest in this kind of Left as they weren’t to be relied upon for support
Talked to Equity council and got the women’s committee launched
It was contentious
Had excellent support from an Equity officer when setting up committee
The women’s charter contained pretty basic stuff that was being taking on quite
broadly throughout the unions at the time
Hadn’t finished PhD at the end of the 3 years and supervisor
suggested she needed to get a publisher to help her to do so
Because of the article in Spare Rib she secured contract with Virago
Book aimed at people in industry not academic
Used Stacey Charlesworth as her ideal reader model

Mrs Worthington’s Daughters and Sidewalk
Directed or co-directed for Broadside at this time, also directed for Sidewalk
At same time the Women’s Theatre Group (Sue Glanville, Sue Leader, Marilyn Milgrim, Sue McGoun)
applied to Arts Council to get a director’s bursary for Jules to be attached to them which they
got (usually awarded to Reps)
Previously group had used freelance directors or devised

Sidewalk did performances of 5 short agitational pieces on
women’s suffrage inc. How The Vote Was Won
In the company were Ian Milton, Berta Freistadt, Marion Pike
Jules directed. They toured
Jules especially loved Edinburgh performance which was given
in an Edwardian conservatory

Mrs Worthington’s Daughters was getting underway
It was a period when you did a piece of lunchtime theatre
without paying people to get the Arts Council in to see work
First production was The Oracle [Susannah Cibber, play from 1752] and
In the Workhouse [Margaret Wynne Nevinson], and The Twelve Pound Look by J.M. Barrie
Jules directed them all. Lunchtime at King’s Head and other places
Selected so that work was seen to be drawn from a range of periods
not just Edwardian
Work was received well, led to full ACE grant and booking of Aurora Leigh [Michelene Wandor ]
adaptation of Elizabeth Barrett Browning] at Young Vic

Women’s Theatre Group
Directed Soap Opera with Women’s Theatre Group
The writer Donna Franceschild brought a process with her from her US playwriting training at UCLA
She employed real structure, knew how to develop character, music and politics
The designer, Mary Moore, brought her capacity to transform any space
you toured to for the audience
Didn’t just tour sets, but spaces, where the hall you were performing in,
ceased to be that hall but the location of the performance
This led to getting embroiled in a debate at ICA about realism and naturalism
in alternative theatre
Mary Moore brought valuable experience through her work in Stoke [theatre-in-the-round]
and other mainstream work
How the Vote Was Won was still using flats

Aurora Leigh, and plays for Women’s Theatre Group
Michelene Wandor used to attend the Feminist Theatre Study Group
She approached Mrs Worthington’s Daughter with her Aurora Leigh script
which they agreed to do, and a new version was written by Wandor for their 5 performers
Further discussion of  evolving ideas within the company about
the nature and aesthetic of their work, and was there such a
thing as women’s aesthetics?
That’s where Aurora Leigh fitted in – more complex language,
more complex theatrical language, spatially and relationally
The feminist debate had moved a long way in 5 years and was typical of what
was happening all over at the end of the 70s in alternative theatre

My Mkinga [1979] with Women’s Theatre Group, introduced the element of
racism into the mix
They had read the book Economy of Health about drug dumping,
especially that of contraceptives
The original story upon which the play was based was set in Tanzania
A group of people discussing family planning
The acting ensemble were all white so Mary Moore’s design cast the audience,
psychologically, in the position of being the villagers receiving a visit from
white, European visitors
There was one space in the company and they then actively sought a
Black British actress to join them, thus the beginnings of a different
kind of British ethnicity in theatre companies
Some discussion of the workings of the collective which Jules felt worked in
Women’s Theatre Group as they all space to do their own thing

Breaking Through by Timberlake Wertenbaker was a youth
show with Women’s Theatre Group on quantum physics
Kate Phelps, American writer of My Mkinga
Tended to write scripts out of collaborative process

Rutherford and Son
Rutherford and Son  [Githa Sowerby] is certainly the women’s equivalent of
Galsworthy and that genre
Production not as successful for Mrs Worthington’s Daughters as Aurora Leigh
Difficulties for a women’s company doing a play with a patriarchal
characters and how to portray them
Performed at Royal Court Upstairs
Doesn’t feel they did justice to the play,and thinks they pared down the script too far

The Wild Bunch
Picked up directing Bryony Lavery’s The Wild Bunch for
Women’s Theatre Group when someone dropped out
Youth piece in which the company attempted to do their
version of physical theatre practice – trying to move into
new theatre aesthetics

Tapdance on a Telephone Line
Play by Donna Franceschild which she had written in the States
About a major strike in a telephone exchange
Approached a range of people to work on it including actors
with more mainstream experiences who were interested in politics
Pat – wonderful US performer, Marcie – young actor, Marilyn Milgrim

Move to Australia
After completing her PhD Jules was offered a short-term contract to teach in Australia
3 months quickly became 6 months
Mary Moore joined her after 3, and they have lived there ever since
When she arrived there was funding on a scale that was then waning in the UK
Began by directing the finalist students in a production of Care and Control
Has continued to do experimental work and engage with set-ups
previously encountered in the early days in the UK
Different tradition of Left in Australia – more based in circus and  physical theatre

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