Andrea and Chris Montag’s Topics List taken from their interview with Susan Croft, February 2009, recorded by Susan Croft.
Video and audio extracts edited by Jessica Higgs.
Radical teachers at art school
Took course in environmental design
Teacher from Harvard teaching semantics, Italian kinetics artist teaching them Utopias, Ken Turner doing Street Theatre, inflatables…
They were at Barnet College which doesn’t exist now, system of portacabins, quite experimental course, first mention of ‘environmental’ – nobody knew what it was
Andrea did post-grad at Sadlers Wells
They lived in Islington then and saw everything at the Wells
Andrea’s first job in Exeter [Northcott Theatre], on and off there for 2 years
[Chris] joined Grove Park Studios-
Group of artists working in animation and graphics, 2 Swedish women there whose mother was taught by Reich, therapy stuff going on, primeval
Brian Eno and Bryan Ferry based there, Roxy music started there
Oval House gave them a room from where they could produce their publications and anything that caught their imaginations – experimental poetry, visual stuff – and Oval wanted them to print their programmes
Had a duplicator, got a scanner and did colour separation, 9 spot colours, managed to do some very sophisticated printing early on
Oval House early days
Oval had lots of little rooms & a main stage
It was all new, lots of groups there
Early People Show with weird surrealism
Oval owned by Duchy of Cornwall, Royalty would come and everyone would dress up securing funding for another 3 years
Time of people living and working together, People Show lived and worked in Abbey Wood. Back in Barnet there was a place called Abbey Wood
in a nearby woodland where some artists lived, People Show were there, by main house in woods, where Lotty Weininger, German animator who told fairy stories with cut out silhouettes – lived in main house
Tales of rituals happening in woods, first time they came across people living like that
Domestic arrangements and Northcott, Exeter
Married and moved to Grove Park studios from Islington
Soon after Andrea moved to Northcott [Theatre], Chris visited, saw each other every few weeks for next couple of years
Conventional work at Northcott, huge stage, amazing first job
Jane Howells was Artistic Director
Writers-in-residence were Bond, Brenton
Actors who started there: Bob Hoskins, Bob Peck, Robert Lindsay
2 years of exciting work, she learnt to design there, Hayden-Griffin was Head of Design who taught her.
Did a lot of TIE, political, learnt from bottom up, early pollution stuff, used inflatable knowledge.
Really exciting, big sets built, not so for starters now, you build what you can yourself, there you had incredible prop makers, carpenters, set builders
Chris – Print shop output and politics
Weren’t especially political but got swept up by the times
Slow awakening to what was going on and losing fear of radicals
Lots of friends in squats, some art college friends moved to Wales, started communities there, out of that developed own theatre groups
Changes in print shop, original partner left and replacement was very political
Unionised print shop
Action groups working for Troops Out movement, legal centres opening up. Produced work for fringe groups and also Young Vic and Royal Court, tiered costing depending on client, lots of free stuff
Work for Oval was free as they provided work space
Salary was £22 per week, had two kids by then but made ends meet, much easier to survive then, housing was cheap
Work became more radical, did ‘Stop the City’ and anarchic things, became main printers for Putney & Peckham Labour Parties doing election work Published their own books & magazines – had guy working who had illustrated Beginners Guides books, and he needed outlet for his cartoon works – Intellectual Ball then Urban Paranoia, these were little magazines, people travelling abroad took some and spread them around – Calcutta, Europe
South Circular was a paper Left of Labour Party that they printed and circulated, people gave them stories, they took photos, came out every two weeks – distributed to food co-ops, newsman on corner by Oval tube, sometimes collected the money, circulation of 1,000, Chris did music page of S. London bands, Ian Drury, interviews were taped and reproduced word for word.
Ran workshops teaching people how to produce their own pamphlets and jobs cheaply
Group called TRURO (Trade Union Revolutionary Oppositon) -Albanians – who used Oval address, active with Nurses pay issues, like SWP on the streets demonstrating.
Photography workshops mainly for women, lots of women wanted to do own work, once a week at nights, exhibitions of work funded by ILEA, proper evening classes.
Bonsai Association came in to run off newsletters
Silk Screen workshops in back of van, set up in courtyards on estates for mums and kids, instant silk screening.
Lots of things going on in Oval & Kennington
People came in from outside working with Alphie to produce theatre, nothing else to do so looked like a good thing to do
Did some work for Kwesi Johnson, Black co-ops used their printing facilities. Oval opened up to different groups, West Indian cooks ran café. Carnival was started there by Roz Price who made costumes with others, lots of Black youths went on to be actors
Living in Dulwich and freelancing
Children came late 70’s
Juggling family and work, taking kids in 2CV to stage door for feeds.
Both had flexible working hours, solid childcare sharing in community
Food Co-op amongst 10 families, taking turns weighing out and packaging food – seemed natural to share, families tended to be freelancers like them. AM worked for Women’s Theatre Group and Monstrous Regiment
Chris M knew Chris Bowler [co-founder Monstrous R] through Oval House
Andrea designed for Monstrous Regiment, Chris M did sets.
Oval House great place for kids to hang out and to be looked after
Old Half Moon and Monstrous Regiment
Came back from Exeter and went into alternative theatre
Returned with good reputation having worked with Jane Howells, lots of offers
First came from Old Half Moon at synagogue in Alie Street, Ron Daniels, director, did Female Transport [Steve Gooch]
Rehearsed all day, built set at night, breakfast went down Brick Lane for salt beef sandwiches, very hands on.
Female Transport was a huge success which led to more work at Old Half Moon
Worked with young directors and writers, Steve Gooch, Caryl Churchill.
Monstrous Regiment followed soon after, attended early meetings with
Chris Bowler and Gillian Hanna, first play was Scum: Death, Destruction and Dirty Laundry which took a year to put together
Expenses only paid at Old Half Moon, not certain how they lived, houses were cheap, parents helped out from time to time, it felt easy to live.
Through Monstrous met – Pam Brighton, Nona Shepphard, Bryony Lavery. Levels get higher – Ron Daniels went to RSC – and careers grow
Year to put on Scum, writers were Claire Luckham and Chris Bond, rehearsed with writers coming in & out, improvised and then there were gaps while writers went away and wrote.
Very little money, designed as it was being written, brought in sketches, talked to Claire & Chris about it, gaps while people went away and did other work (a la Joint Stock)
Play set in laundry so needed vast amounts of costumes, spent months looking for costumes on no budget, then it was possible to get stuff
Scum was very successful, toured then came back to town
Duckboard set and poles for washing lines
Monstrous always got a rehearsal space somewhere with an adjoining space to build the set in
Designed some Monstrous posters
Further alternative theatre work
Monstrous opened her up to women’s theatre & work with directors and writers who came out of women’s movement
Did 5 shows with Monstrous
Work with Black Theatre – Talawa, Temba, Foco Novo
Never actually worked at Oval House but had links through Chris
Worked at Tricycle, then Stratford East, not so many designers around, very regular work, 6-7 shows a year
Monstrous Regiment used to have huge arguments, starting point where everything had to be discussed, after a while method was disastrous and
you understood why everyone had to have a job
Huge clashes with directors who came in and found they weren’t making the decisions
Black theatre using a white designer, still divides opinion now
Monsters (aka Monstrous) splits not serious because everyone was committed to work, Monsters used men, questioning if one needs to do Black or Women’s theatre
Umoja – AM did a couple of plays for them, very small, under-resourced, based near Oval, hard work, opened at Drill Hall
Temba and Talawa had huge back up unlike Umoja, Yvonne Brewster andothers had strong personalities
Her mother-in-law kept press cuttings from first 4 years of her work life
CM – companies had their own designs and wanted printers- Forkbeard Fanatasy, quintessentially an English dada group
Got known for a certain type of poster, Young Vic used them to produce education pack, Royal Court too
Oval House, print shop, Peter Oliver
Oval House hummed from 7am to midnight, some lived there, happenings all over, in car park
People would drop in – Dustin Hoffman for instance
[Print shop] started off in main house, then moved into building where Roz Price now does carnival stuff
Started with duplicator, then a Litho press – A4 then A3, followed by a Heidelberg press which was craned into the building, press and silk screen facility in A1 & A2 sizes
Peter Oliver – a gentle man, though mighty too
Odette [Peter’s daughter] was getting into dance, Chris’s partner John Wells had workshop at Grove Park and did work there with Odette and later together in Canada – John Wells moved to Nova Scotia
Olivers lived at the top of the house, a buzzing place, things on stairways Amazing edge
Peter got things out of people rather than telling them what to do, he made an environment where they could do things, try things out, space for experimentation
Production of Woyzeck at Oval where Peter was naked, very powerful
Joan [Peter’s wife] was involved with lots of groups too, helped run the place, left Peter to do the weird things
Psychiatric free fall, reminded Chris of R.D. Laing centre where people could do what they wanted without harming themselves
Old Half Moon
Incredible space at Old Half Moon in Alie Street, run by Maurice Colbourne and partner, 3 spaces – Synagogue, the house attached and house next door
6 or 7 people lived and worked there
Properties rented but serious slums
Membership for theatre
Very old building, 2 balconies in tiny theatre space
One balcony was workshop for making costumes, 8’ wide, in other was actor, wife and baby, balconies were blocked off
Very dangerous – memories of gas fires under seating
Maurice and partner lived in house next door, with basement full of rubbish and rats, no electricity, water from a hose pipe in garden
Interesting and exciting
Rehearsed all day, built set at night, Brick Lane for breakfast in morning
All pulled down eventually
Shows: Female Transport and one other
Maurice Colbourne, a big guy, very strong personality, directed, acted, set built, on TV, pulled Half Moon together, lot of people lived around there, who didn’t want to work in West End
Had freedom to do radical work for little cost
Tricycle and Stratford East
AM worked at Tricycle with Ken Chubb over a long period, 2 years, though not resident designer, every other play
Dick Sheppard’s Back – period when scaffolding structure came into theatre; Ever After by Cathy Itzin [and Ann Mitchell] about weddings; Johnson’s Blues Singer [Bob Mason’s Love in Vain]
Hazel O’Connor was in a piece; Beyond the ‘Apenny Steps with Mona Hammond, Windrush theme: 2 or 3 Black shows with Yvonne Brewster which led into Talawa and Temba work, then to Stratford East where AM’s first production was Smile Orange with Trevor Rhone
Designing to buildings as opposed to Exeter with team making sets in actual theatres
Looking back and teaching at Bristol Old Vic
Looks back with excitement
Very lucky to start at Northcott and reputation it gave
Plenty of work around, earned very little, pleased didn’t have to do work she didn’t like
Lots of new plays with new writers not done before
Worked for 30 years, got older, exhausted, went into teaching at
Bristol Old Vic school for 10-12 years as designer and teacher, then full time teacher
Little design work now – only at Tobacco Factory, Bristol, on their Shakespeare seasons and working with students on their designs for Old Vic shows.
Enjoys seeing students designing
Alternative work, fees varied, always issues about paying designers as their work is unseen – paid well in commercial companies, would accept job for little money as long as on a par with everyone else in company, ranged from 0 to ridiculous
Female Transport her most important fringe production – good working with Steve Gooch and Ron Daniels.
Elizabeth, Almost by Chance a Woman [Dario Fo] at Half Moon
Working closely with women in Monstrous Regiment and with Caryl Churchill on Vinegar Tom
No allowances made for being a mother at Monstrous.
Chris was flexible with child management, learnt to work when children were asleep, RSC were understanding when working with them at Donmar, as most of them had families.
It’s possible to be a designer and have children
Worst thing is taking on too much when you have kids – something has to give, example of trying to do Black Jacobins with Talawa at Riverside whilst doing Brenton in Newcastle – the Brenton had to go
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