Location: People Show Offices, Brady Arts Centre, Whitechapel
Interviewer & technician: Susan Croft
Topics List: David Cleall
Please note we only have half of Mark Long’s interview on audio. The whole interview is available on video.
For video timings see Mark Long video Topics List
00:00:00 Personal background. Brought up by mother (from a famous Berlin family, communist and Jewish, in the 30s) family ended up in UK. Mark Long (ML) brought up by Mum and his stepfather, a prominent communist and trade unionist. They were very different people – Mother was a columnist and writer very intellectual with doctorate, stepfather came from a very an incredibly poor working class family in Scotland with little education. Brought up in Belsize Park and had a very decent upbringing and childhood.
00:02.01 Education, Trent Park and Abbey Arts Centre. William Ellis School on Parliament Hill, then went on to Trent Park and did drama. The college generally very influential on him. Trent Park then was out in Middlesex – 3 major courses: music; art; drama and dance, they were working in the same spaces and very close and did shows with each other. Influential on The People Show (TPS) because awareness of musicians, dancers and painters. ML living in Abbey Arts Centre [New Barnet, Herts, estb by William Ohly] whilst a student, it was a terrific environment with artists’ studios bringing together painters, writers, musicians. Lotte Reiniger was in TPS No. 5 – ‘The Shadow Show’ she lived next door (to the Abbey Arts Centre) and she (later) built shadow figures for us.
00:06:30 Start of ‘The People Show’. Left Trent Park in the summer [1966?], unhappy teaching part-time (Drama). Approached by Jeff Nuttall (JN) and first People Show was in December. TPS was completely down to Jeff, a resident at the Abbey, asked by him to do [a happening?] for Pink Floyd concert. ML didn’t want to do straight acting, also very interested in stage lighting. When TPS started, no other theatre groups in England (except CAST: Roland Muldoon’s company) no models of what a theatre group should be, there were no arts centres, no arts labs – so they were born ‘site-specific’ out of necessity – venues for TPS: UFO, jazz clubs, universities and soon we went abroad a lot. A lot of work and they were paid well. ML was better off in the first ten years of TPS than since! Fees rather than box-office. Better Books [Charing Cross Road] and Arts Lab [Drury Lane] and Peter Oliver at Oval House [Kennington]. First TPS personnel were Jeff Nuttall, Sidney Palmer, John Darling (JD), Laura Gilbert (LG) (mainly from Trent Park except LG). Sid more of an actor which led to some conflict – he left in 1968. JD made first sound tape for PS No. 3 this became a major part of their work. Liked working in theatres so they could utilise theatre lighting and sound. TPS No. 9 Joan Littlewood invited them to play at Stratford [Theatre Royal Stratford East].
00:16.10 Various theatre interests . ML loved Littlewood’s work with its working class roots. Enjoyed [John] Osborne; [Arnold] Wesker and Royal Court Theatre but these were ‘plays’ that didn’t need to explore the visual. ‘Oh! What A Lovely War’ was terrific. Living Theatre came over [from America] after we started and La Mama [Troupe] he saw at Edinburgh [Festival Fringe]. Not especially aware of Peter Brook / Theatre of Cruelty at that time. TPS started to go to Edinburgh [1967? ref. JN] and then went for next 12 years. First Edinburgh run TPS played every show they had created (all 12) in hired hall and also played the Traverse [Theatre]. On this first visit we saw two Polish groups that were like us, this was before [Jerzy ] Grotovski – very visual, very powerful but performed by an older generation. Led to TPS going to Poland (1971-72?) surprised by the awareness in Poland of the alternative theatre scene in London.
00:22.20 Development and content of People Shows. First Jeff Nuttall ‘script’ for TPS was a structure rather than a script influenced by his experience as a jazz musician and poet , with choruses and scope for individuals to improvise in solos – entitled ‘The People Show – an Exhibition of People by God’ – it gave the company their name. Main influences on TPS were the visual arts and vaudeville. Worked for many years with Johnny Hutch [1913-2006] from vaudeville and a mentor for TPS for 10 years+ acrobatics and tumbling. Similarities of TPS with Vaudeville (e.g.’surrealistic, rebellious, visual, spectacular, naughty, live music’). Better Books basement TPS No.1 : description of props, etc. Counter-culture scene ‘International Times’, Jim Haynes, music scene, UFO Club, Middle Earth [‘hippie’ club mid-late 60s, Covent Garden]; Mark Boyle’s oil wheel projections. Popularity of these Better Books People Shows. ML when 16 yrs old worked on market stalls relates to anecdote on No.47 No Blonde is an Island (only blondes admitted into audience).
00:33.36 Happenings, structures and adapting to spaces. Influence of America: Ginsberg and William Burroughs, Pop Art. Happenings weren’t really here in UK until later with companies like ‘John Bull Puncture Repair Outfit [Kit]’ and ‘Natural Theatre’. TPS differed from happenings because it had a dynamic – a start, a middle and an end. Roland Miller (RM) joined TPS about 1968 and RM and Jeff were very good at getting the TPS to understand the space they perform in and to use aspects of that space in the work. Later work often became tightly structured using technology and specific cues. TPS No.31 Glass at New Arts Lab example of very visual show using elaborate sound and lighting cues.
00:40:15 Personnel Changes and artistic clashes. Jeff being ‘shocking for its own sake’. Artistic differences, Sid leaving after 2 years. With Roland Miller the work became less dynamic and [too] performance art. Laura Gilbert (originally model Hornsey Art School) – beautiful, powerful personality and had her own TPS audience ‘cult’ following. Her boyfriend, Derek Wilson (DW) – a potter and painter – had a huge influence on set ideas, but was a difficult character. Jose Nava didn’t get on with DW but it was manageable conflict. George [Khan] could be very negative but he was a fantastic musician so everybody put up with him! Difficulty with John Darling eventually having to leave TPS. The difficulty of coping with splitting up with company members, as they were like a family. Conflict between ML and JN was quite productive. Mike Figgis took over from JD making sound tapes. He had a talent that couldn’t be contained within the PS. JD went off to ‘John Bull Puncture Repair Kit’. In contrast to John Fox’s ‘Welfare State’ [Bradford] that lived as a community –TPS’s ‘partners’ tended not to be part of the company.
01:02: 00 Better Books and the Arts Lab. Bob Cobbing, at Better Books – TPS No.2 Monster Sale with John Latham (paper sculpture in his work). TPS No. 3 The Examination – they hired a mirror spot, used a sound tape (by JD) and 16mm film of ML preparing to jump off Hungerford Bridge and a live jazz band (‘The People Band’). First show that they got paid for. Description of the Better Books basement venue, i.e. 50 seater. Jim Haynes set up the Arts Lab [Drury Lane] one venue for all arts – here TPS had bigger theatre and they got better paid, JH very good at raising money. The arts lab movement took off from this initiative: Luton (actually a house); Chapter Arts at Cardiff (Mick Flood ). At that time no public funding but later TPS resisted getting too dependent of the Arts Council funding. TPS always been very cautious re money, never in debt. [Back to] Better Books with The Cage. [Similarly titled] The Cage Show at Arts Lab was notorious for putting the audience in cages (bedsteads) one night an audience member broke out wielding an axe. JN enjoyed performance (although he always denied it).
01:16:42 Whistlestop, Paul Raymond and the Bush Theatre. Last show JN did with TPS Whistlestop (1991) Bush Theatre. JN wrote four pieces inspired by films on trains and TPS built a set two carriages (Simon Richards) in the Bush Theatre with, at one point, Emil [Wolk] hanging on between the carriages. A fire at the Bush Theatre destroyed the theatre (and TPS set) TPS were blamed. Paul Raymond (‘King of Soho’) wanted Whistlestop for opening of his new Boulevard Theatre (ex-strip club) negotiations re. unsuitability of stage, the need for an interval etc.
01:24:00 Accounts of various People Shows. Recently lost funding, meant TPS No.121 – had no money for rehearsals untypical they wrote a script to work within time constraints. TPS No.114 The Obituary Show, a good show and it never fully found its audience because of terrorist bombings. Chahine [Yavroyan] is a piano player. Cindy Oswin wrote an obituary for Chahine for the show’s finish. TPS No.121: The Icicle Building [ Bauhaus building in Hampstead] and Agatha Christie were starting points. Some TPSs about musicians: Charlie Parker; Bix Beiderbecke; Chet Baker and Billie Holiday. TPS No.5 The Shadow Show with Lotte Reiniger. Very few filmed records of TPS although there are some poor quality videos. Theatre In Fact based on the Kennedy Assassination [ refers to No.50 The Cowboy ?] A Nice Quiet Night satisfying show, everything ‘came together’ – had a motorbike, and Laura [LG] was hung up, a cruel show but uplifting. Mother was done at Stratford for JL. Sheet Traverse [Edinburgh] – theatre space divided by a sheet: tragedy one side / comedy the other. The Warm Up Café [1967 or 68] Golden Slumbers (JN script). Magic Circle was created by Roland Turner – unusually from outside TPS.
01:46:17 More People shows and audience interventions. The Boxing Show (Arts Lab) – full size boxing ring, they trained to make it the boxing authentic. A later (1986) boxing show TPS No. 91 at Brighton– had a floating boxing-ring that disappeared out to sea. Cultural Re-orientation (JN show) with a painter Bryan Williams as a bumble-bee about the working class, Jeff wrote good songs, the audience sat on painted beer crates, matched to colour marks on the floor.. The Tosher Show at Middle Earth used decorators’ paint, planks, ladders. Railings in the Park JN and SP finally parted company. Scottish press outraged wanted to evict TPS out of Scotland, Max Stafford-Clark [artistic director of the Traverse] defended us. Psychiatrist intervened one night. Other audience interventions including Ian Hinchcliffe [ performance artist with Matchbox Purveyors]. Shop, Mrs Butterworth JN wrote this show for Muriel England (ex-Trent Park) as a ‘character’ – unusual for TPS.
Audio recording ends 01:58:24
[Material is covered on our video recording: Administration of The People Show (TPS). Admin tasks have been shared out amongst the company. Initially bookkeeping was ad hoc, but that changed when they started getting grants. Roland Miller got them their first grants from Arts Council – individual bursaries as visual artists – Mark Long (ML) received £500 for one year. First administrator / manager David Aukin [by 1970] ran TPS alongside other companies. Later TPS had rehearsal space in Shorts Garden behind Old Compton Street. Jill [?] administrator at a later stage was important in the development of the company. An earlier administrator, Bradford, left under mysterious circumstances with TPS in debt. Jill turned this situation around but there were some lean times. For example No.84 The Bridge (1980) required a large set and with no budget the company scavenged the wood needed from billboards. TPS joined Equity, a requirement as they were playing Equity theatres – TPS paid standard Equity rates, are a limited Company [by guarantee] and a registered charity. ML valued the role of their Board – taking on those aspects that TPS are not good at, but remaining very separate from the artistic decisions. Outline of the current board members and mention of TPS selling their premises recently.The Mickery Theatre Amsterdam and changes to the commissioning and funding of shows. No.22 The Beach Ball Show (1968-69) was a touring show based on a [Jeff] Nuttall structure – the company’s first visit to the Mickery Theatre, Amsterdam. Ritsaert ten Cate was incredibly supportive of the work of British theatre companies.TPS went out to The Mickery about twice a year for many years. Ten Cate arranged tours for them within Holland – sometimes they stayed out for a couple of months. Eventually they fell out with him when they realised that over a number of years he was charging the tour venues considerably more than he gave the company. As a result of the falling out Ritsaert ‘airbrushed’ TPS out of Mickery history. ML compares Ritsaert approach taking any new show on trust with the current situation where venues won’t take risks, want to see good review before they book. Arts Council now want to know how many people have seen a show, how much each person is being subsidised. The current situation requires publicists to create audiences something TPS can’t do. Some of their contemporaries have been better at marketing and working within the system but TPS have always enjoyed their ‘outsider’ image – enjoyed being ‘being difficult to define’. Johnny Hutch and The People Show Cabaret. ML relates some of JH’s origins in acrobatic companies (from 1928) and explains that it was Emil Wolk (EW) who invited Johnny Hutch (JH) to see TPS (1979 No.82 Jim’s Gym) with the suggestion that he could do some work with them. ML explains the tragic circumstances that led to EW joining TPS in 1977. JH realised that he could do something with them. ML quickly came to love acrobatics, EW already had experience and Dawn [Archibald] was brilliant and worked well with Emil. At the Festival of Fools in Holland the set for No.84 The Bridge burnt down overnight so, with no possibility of running the show they decided to use the musical numbers that they had used as a cabaret night. JH got involved in developing acrobatic routines and said he could ‘turn [The People Show Cabaret ] into a Rolls Royce’ and make them a lot of money! It was the most popular of all the shows they did – neither tricky or obscure it played four weeks at the Royal Court (downstairs) A couple of agents set up a successful Australian tour, then tried to interest ML and EW in doing a TV sit-com but ML didn’t want to. JH didn’t appear in the shows but he was in a film they did for Channel 4. Emil’s Dad (Jess Walters) was a famous opera singer and he was in [N0.79] The Hamburg Show. Touring, Roland Miller (RM) and video technology. Anyone for Tennis (No.23) – ML thinks that this show was their take on Othello, RM as a white Othello and ML and LG blacked-up as Iago and Desdemona. Walter (No.24) was a controversial Jeff Nuttall (JN) show based around a dummy called Walter. Scrapheap (No.25) at Bradford Polytechnic: they now had a bigger truck and from scrapyards they created a huge ‘mountain of scrap’ and built show around it [1968-1973] extraordinary output in terms of the sheer number of different shows being created. Changes (No.26, in 1969) exemplifies some of the differences in approaches to work between RM and ML. It was based on 12 independent five minute segments of lighting cues; sound cues; action sections and verbal sections. The order of elements to be performed was drawn from a hat each night – there was no organising dynamic. RM was more intellectually rigorous and interested in the randomness whereas Mark got ‘creatively upset’ by the degree of failure that would be thrown up by this lack of structure. Platforms and Screens were shows also in this vein. RM met Shirley Cameron [in 1970] and he left TPS to explore with this different approach. Porridge and Glass were both good examples of post-RM work. ML speculates on an ambition to do a fully funded People Show pantomime, ‘Robinson Crusoe’ but it has not been possible to get backers. Video Environments was at Einhoven University where Philips, the Dutch electronics firm, wanted artists to experiment with this new format. TPS were well known in Holland and they had a 3 week period to experiment and it culminated in a performance. The People Eaters [No.29] was at the New Arts Lab (NAL) [Robert Street] where TPS turned the place into a café. The pub on the corner by New Arts Lab was run by Tommy Cooper(TC)’s prop man, ML admired the way TC rehearsed everything expertly but made it look spontaneous and easy – which was something TPS similarly aspired to. Glass (No.31) at the NAL , example of a show that gave them enormous satisfaction. This show was ‘cinematic’ in its construction of precisely-framed images with a soundtrack –the artistic success of this show influenced their work from then on. Now they needed to travel with a lighting person. About this time was their first gig at La MaMa, New York where they met Steve Whitson. He subsequently came back to London, ‘kicked his heroin habit’ and worked with them and ‘took them to places they couldn’t have without him’ (there is now a ‘Steve Whitson Studio’ at Toynbee Hall). Opening image of Glass was a tree made up of broken bottles; JD wore immaculate white suit and chauffeur’s hat, LG at a dressing table – images were white (or glass) with red – a rose, blood. [JD] was a terrific performer – ML explains the term ‘performer’ as opposed to ‘actor’. Butter Butler was taken to Ghent. TPS got a lot of work in Belgium (being the home of surrealism). The Ghent Landing Show (No.40) was ‘site-specific’ with the audience promenading around the old Nazi headquarters there. In 1970 was the Royal Court ‘Come Together’ Festival. Ed Berman and Inter-Action. Porridge (at the Cockpit) was another tight show and was a good example of ‘where they wanted to be’. Rehearsal spaces and working practices. With no rehearsal space they liked to get into a venue 3-4 days before to build the show. They talked through ideas in their rooms, JD would started creating the tape. Sometimes they didn’t get enough rehearsal time – and in those cases, ‘it showed’. They invested a comparatively large amount on recording equipment (Nagra). [Later about1980] they got rehearsal and workshop spaces at Smithfields in ex-stables. TPS followed the Jonathon Pryce Hamlet into the Royal Court. The floor of the set had been decked out in wooden planks and TPS asked for the planks – which they were given and used the wood to refurbish their newly acquired studios. ML unusually had had a part in Richard Eyre’s National Theatre Bartholomew Fair . He contrasts TPS working practices with ‘traditional’ theatre practices. TPS constantly analyse and reflect on a show in light of audience response – whereas broadly speaking a show like that at the National is ‘set in stone’ from the beginning. Using a recent example of No.117 The Birthday Show – the elaborate ending they devised was a brilliant idea but didn’t really work with an audience – they tried many radical revisions with audiences before they ended up with the best outcome. People Shows 1970-1973. No.35 Bix Beiderbecke (1970) has some well-known photos of Laura on a bike and Mark emerging from a paper filled telephone box – there was a long spiel about Bix, hence the title. No.36 Kurt Schmidt had Mike Figgis giving a lecture about the (fictitious) German composer Kurt Schmidt whilst the company built a structure about him [signifying the Nazi context of his music]. For one performance of this at the Oval, TPS were joined by Freehold theatre company. ML recounts a show that was a failure No.37 Football at Fiol Teatret Copenhagen – although they were scheduled to play it for a week they dropped it after one night, replacing it with another show. No.38 Toto’s Club: this Kensington club was very ‘Biba’ – may have been a lunchtime show. No.39 The Sand Show at the Charles Marowitz’s Open Space used 50 live mice – anecdote re Charles Marowitz. Their Charlie Parker Show did very well in La MaMa New York and on a (mainly) university tour in America (where they were paid $1000 a night!). TPS were taken seriously as artists in a way that they weren’t at home and were offered a 2-year American tour. Unusually they put the decision to the vote and they voted against staying. Isabella the Prostitute had Jose playing the prostitute first in a street show in Glasgow and later adapted to the [small upstairs space of Oval House] as No.47 No Blonde is an Island . No.46 The Paris Show was an example of Derek Wilson’s set building at its best. No.48 Jose’s Pigs/ Cattle Show started in Sloane Square with Jose begging in the street next to plaster pigs and cattle. No.51 Oh the Birds was a late Nuttall show. No.50 The Cowboy was a show drawing from the American visit – it had the Kennedy assignation on the radio.]