Adele Salem Topics List

Adele Salem Topics List taken from her interview with Susan Croft, April 2007, recorded by Arlan Harris.
Audio and video extracts edited by Jessica Higgs.

Personal background
Upper class Afghan father came to Britain during WWII to do officer training, white working class mother from market trading family
Didn’t look Asian enough to play Asian parts and there weren’t any
Desire to leave home town
Convent school, Islamic father, spiritualist mother
Leicester Drama Society
Dance classes, fulfilling parents thwarted ambitions
Went to Spain to get Equity card, magician’s assistant in Circus Americana

Drama School
Bristol Old Vic
Contrast of Bristol with Leicester
Demand for middle-class voice in theatre
Only 3 non-white people in a class of 30
Polly in The Beggar’s Opera

Feminist theatre groups and desire for theatre
Need to be seen to be carrying the set etc – be as good as men
Taking on masculine traits
Glamour, allowed or not- allowed

Moving to London, early fringe and touring
Aspirations as a young actor – theatre, snobbery about TV and film
Excitement of theatre then – Steven Berkoff’s East
London Fringe
Redditch – Reddiscyp – Clive Webster, theatre in the round, in schools
New movement in TIE
Women’s Theatre Group (WTG) – Breaking Through – agit prop, anti-nuclear power show, playing Sci, opposite Fi
Restaurant Theatre Co., Mouth and Trousers

Spare Tyre
Joining Spare Tyre
Working on Susie Orbach’s inspired show on women’s image,
becoming politicised
How Do I Look? with Clare Chapman [now Chapwell]
Being paid properly as part of political stance
Campaigns through Equity e.g. Women’s Committee for improved opportunities for women
Spare Tyre booked by grassroots women’s organisations
GLC (Greater London Council) support

Women’s Theatre Group
New Anatomies by Timberlake Wertenbaker, cross-dressing, on Isabelle Erhardt, Vesta Tilley etc
Political lesbians
Well-written work rather than agit-prop
Playing journalist Severine, lesbian character in Paris salons
Playing men
Directed by Nancy Diuguid, made process of performers dressing part of the action, design, Ilona McLeish

Time Pieces, devised with company, directed Lou Wakefield
Introduction to writing and devising
Early frustration with the form and demands to make statements
Functioning of collective – arguing about everything in show and in
their lives, problems of writing and designing by committee

Double Vision, with Libby Mason, exciting, improvised piece
Characters: a working class woman ‘naturallly’ a lesbian vs a political
Southern PC lesbian
AS’s personal experiments with partnership, lesbianism
Issue of being an ‘authentic’ lesbian actress playing the part addressed
Process – improvising and writing from improvisation
Narrator’s ironic commentary made a more sophisticated form
Performers: Hazel Maycock, Jo Richler (Canadian musician)
Company members stayed until they chose to leave
Northern cities, depression under Thatcherism

Dear Girl
Tierl Thompson had been given diaries by Margaret [?], who inherited the diaries and letters between 4 working class women
Parallel with earlier generation
Importance of documentation and passing history on
Directed by Libby Mason.
Also became a radio play

Love and Dissent by Elizabeth Bond
About Alexandra Kollontai and attitudes to sex and relationships
Directed by Nona Sheppard, set in a comprehensive school
Relationship between head-teacher played by Sue McGoun and pupil
played by AS

Reasons for leaving WTG after Dear Girl

Hard Corps
Jill Fleming and the anarchic style, satirical commentary
For She’s a Jolly Good Fellow, first show
Theatrical form, wild times on and off set

John, about Radclyffe Hall and Una Troubridge
Negative reaction because of AS’s refusal to identify solely as a lesbian
Tensions because of need to be the authentic voice of being a lesbian
‘Trashing the closet doors’
AS was writer, Michele Frankel, director
Led to AS’s later experiments with Magdalena Project
Catty Calthrop, Sarah McNair, AS and Sandy Lester inherited company 1984
Playing the Melkweg, Amsterdam and Traverse, Edinburgh
Show questioned role playing, was cheeky and funny, possibly ‘queer’ ahead of its time

Directed Les Autres about a group of women in Paris (Natalie Barney,
Dolly Wilde [AS], Romaine Brooks) – parallels in their lives and incestuous relationships with those of the company

Jill Fleming and The Rug of Identity
Importance of Kate Crutchley involvement in the show

Growing interest in formal experiment, childhood love of dressing up and play combined with company

Other projects
Which Doctor? Directed for Little Women on women’s need to take control of their own health including reproductively from medical establishment, devised agit-prop show, Katrina Duncan

Wenzani – one white, one black South African woman working together exploring issues. Limitation of agit-prop form

The First Woman in Outer Space
Working with artists: gay actor and musician Mike Wilcox, who’d
worked with Triple Action, artists Peter Noble and video editor Phil Woodward. Multi-media show based on Valerie Solanas’s SCUM Manifesto
Multi-levelled text: First Woman Cosmonaut and Hiroshima Maidens, Little Book of Saints – choice of texts in one woman show formed by personal history including her catholic background

Later meeting Celia West through Magdalena Project and through her the women who led her in a psycho/spiritual direction
Dramatic movement of The First Woman in Outer Space and addressing of rage, its ambiguity

Performances and directing
Affect of rage on her performances / directing at that time:

Directing Shameful Practice’s Home Sweet Home by Sue Frumin on housing
Involvement of Stephanie Pugsley and Jacky Tayler (ex-Sadista Sisters)
Parallel process – psychological term from group dynamics reflected in theatre company devising processes

Crux by April De Angelis, Paines Plough, directed by Saffron Myers, AS playing a self-destructive nun-like figure
Personal process in theatre
Cinderella: The Real True Story, AS as Prince with Nicola Kathryns, directed by Nona Sheppard, Drill Hall panto, difficult rehearsal period
Joy of playing choice lesbian part, thigh-slapping, cross-dressing in aromp
Press and media coverage

The Magdalena Project, 1986 and 88
Not director Zofia Kalinska’s type of woman – directors choose women who reflect themselves
Cast when someone dropped out
Jill Greenhalgh from Cardiff Laboratory Theatre and European performance art/ physical theatre background, wanted to draw out experience of women in large-scale, physical, visual, mythical, Dartington, Grotowski background
Cf. Impact Theatre Co-op
AS wanted to be involved in this area she saw as more challenging than political theatre
Searching for next direction she needed
Influence of Robert Lepage, Pina Bausch

7 women from different international backgrounds, at Odin Theatre,
Holstebro, Denmark, funded theatre laboratory devising over 2 months
Zofia, autocratic and demanding but pushed them to do interesting work
Zofia’s background in Tadeusz Kantor’s troupe, very loyal to him but had been displaced for a younger actress. Wanted to express a woman’s point of view
Demonic theatre – trance-like, effecting subconscious
Tour of Germany and Poland
Piece about women as artists, exploring archetypes AS as Estelle in Great Expectations (anima figure), Salome
Radical in form and technique but not content
Physically tough – performers to breaking point, creative zone
Destructive or creative process
Need for structure
Issue of success of piece and its ambition
Touring Poland prior to 1989

Work with Steve Shill and after
Ex-Impact Theatre Co-op
His show Face Down at ICA, private world of a couple detailed on stage, observed, lower middle class world
Him as director and man
The Empire about an unborn child

Show at the National [Theatre] with Ken Campbell
Psychotherapy, concentration on therapeutic work, training, shamanic work, spiritual path, tai chi
Influence of Penny O’Connor and The Artist’s Way on bringing her back to acting
Eastenders, strength of women characters
Recent visit to LA, saw Steve Shill, his career there
AS in the film The Revolting Dead

Kali Women’s Theatre Company
Actorum actors’ agency
Casting for half Asian, half English woman role to play Northern working class
Double bill: Love Comes in at the Window and Black Shalwar
Not happy experience
Black Shalwar
First experience of being naked on stage
Difficulties of being in company after demanding performance

View of Women’s Theatre now and its legacy personal and cultural
Pride in her involvement in a significant time and pioneering work
Vibrancy, creativity and opportunity
Frustration at little things
Re-glamorisation of women and its dangers
Appearance as power
Desire to communicate stories and heritage of Women’s Movement to a younger generation of women

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