Paradise Foundry

Company Name: Paradise Foundry

Founders: Malcom Griffiths with the Portable Theatre Workshop Company (POTOWOCA): Michael Harrigan, Mark Penfold, Pat Rossiter, Anna Mottram, Nicholas Ball and Diana Patrick

Established: 1973

Reason: After Portable Theatre went bankrupt, Malcolm Griffith’s POTOWOCA was renamed Paradise Foundry

Current Status: Folded in 1975

Area of Work: New Writing, Political and Experimental

Policy: ‘We emerged out of the ashes of Portable Theatre and although we carried on the line of Portable’s policy “New plays by new writers”, the way in which this work was carried out presented a radical break away from the traditional system of Manager-Director-Writer-Actor employed by us in the past.’ (Press release March 1974)

Structure: ‘Paradise Foundry is a collective. Its working process is democratic and all decisions are shared by the whole company.’ (Press release September 1974)

Based: London based touring company

Funding: Initial Arts Council funding for new writing and DALTA tour (n.b. In 1970 the Arts Council set up a scheme to organise the touring of opera, ballet and drama. The scheme was known as DALTA as a result of the Council taking over the formerly independent Dramatic and Lyric Theatre Association. From 1974/75 the DALTA name was gradually replaced with ‘Arts Council Touring’)

Performance venues: Oval House, Manchester University Theatre, Kings Head Theatre, Liverpool Playhouse Studio, Traverse Theatre Edinburgh, Bush Theatre, Crucible Theatre Sheffield, Bush Theatre, Mickery Theatre Amsterdam, Theatre at New End, Cockpit Theatre and touring

Audiences: Arts centres and fringe theatres – nationally and internationally

Company work and process:

A New Name
Malcolm Griffiths had been artistic director of Portable Theatre Workshop Company (POTOWOCA) for two years at the time that the company went bankrupt. A change in the company’s name to Paradise Foundry was announced in June 1973 during their tour of Snoo Wilson’s Vampire. In Plays and Players, Jonathan Hammond notes that ‘Paradise Foundry ….. was lucky to have a most talented and extraordinary script … by Snoo Wilson….Wilson’s weird teeming theatrical imagination made us realise his fantastic potential… which is a tremendous advance in many ways on the author’s Pignight and Blow Job.’ Wilson explained his approach to the commission: ‘The play relies very much on the people in Paradise Foundry – especially the third act…..If you’re given an open commission to write a play for a group, it’s really them and their lifestyles that determines what the play’s about. They’re almost a group of what used to be known as strolling players. Actually Vampire is partly the way it is because there are very few good parts for women; and as they have these three actresses, I thought it would be good to write for them.’ (Snoo Wilson, 1973)

Operation ISKRA
Commissions for new work from Michelene Wandor and David Edgar – who had both contributed short pieces to POTOWOCA’s Point 101 – were well underway.  Malcolm Griffiths took a teaching job at Trent Polytechnic (probably September 1973?) and Chris Parr was brought in to direct David Edgar’s  Operation ISKRA. Parr and Edgar had recently worked together in the Bradford based political theatre company The General Will. Mike Harrigan and Pat Rossiter from the Vampire cast were in Operation ISKRA and again  Miki van Zwanenberg designed the production. Arts Council funding through the DALTA STOPOVER scheme, presumably set up prior to the demise of Portable, enabled a fairly extensive 1973-4 tour. This political thriller imagines a future England in the year 1977: ‘Suppose a Conservative government move to the Right; suppose a Tory government back in power; suppose the Army takes over National security; suppose the smashing of the IRA; suppose the bombers get remission; suppose a harsher Prices and Income policy; suppose Power workers go on strike; suppose the Army run the National Grid; suppose the guerrillas have a bomb; suppose they’ll plant it at a power station; suppose the Army gets a whisper.’

Towards Company Devised Work
Following the Operation ISKRA tour Paradise Foundry  ‘…. consists of an administrator, a stage manager, and six players – Mark Penfold, Pat Rossiter, Anna Mottram, Diane Patrick, Ian Banforth and Mike Harrigan’.  The technical support of Del Trew, variously credited as stage manager, designer and lighting provided some continuity over the next twelve months in the context of changing personnel.  The company were still committed to new writing and a Malcolm Griffith commission – Michelene Wandor’s Friends and Strangers Alike opened at the Bush Theatre London and The Mickery, Amsterdam. This collection of ‘minimalist duologues about identity and sexual politics’ (Christmas, Joey, Pearl and Swallows) would be published with other short duologues under the title To Die Among Friends. In this published playtext Malcolm Griffiths is cited as ‘director’ of the Bush theatre production. Probably concurrently with the Friends and Strangers Alike  Paradise Foundry take a new direction with a company devised and directed piece Yin-Yang, Thank you Ma’am.

A New Company
Sandy Craig briefly becomes administrator and there are further changes to the company. The ‘collective’ now comprises of Anna Mottram, Linda Spurrier, Andy Norton, Hilton McRae. ‘Through working on new plays, especially such different pieces as those by Snoo, David and Michelene, the company has gained strength whilst not being narrowly defined. By developing our own show, we have become more flexible and learnt new techniques so that our work has remained fresh and exciting. And we have gained a reputation for our “cool, quiet, efficient” way of working; and as “the first real group work since TOC. [Inter-Action‘s The Other Company] ended ….excellent” ‘

More Changes
Paradise Foundry’s  Autumn tour  comprised of a company devised piece In Plastic and also Lunatics Take Over the Aldwych written by Ranald Graham. Plastic is a  ‘dramatic collage written by the company through workshops and improvisations….it is dedicated to outlining the irresistible rise and unstoppable spread of plastic …the selection of scenes and sketches includes the First Ever Plastic Symphony, composed by John White ….. and the show culminates in a performance of Peter Handke’s Calling for Help.’ The Lunatics Take Over the Aldwych directed by Malcolm McKay imagines ‘A group of lunatics take over the Aldwych and present their view of life in an inter-linked series of short pieces and improvisations which include their versions of Shakespeare’s four great tragedies: Hamlet, Othello, Macbeth and King Lear. But their interpretations of Shakespeare are very different from those which audiences of the Aldwych would normally expect.’ (Press release, 1974)

At the beginning of 1975 a double bill by Gabriel Josipovici Echo & Dreams of Mrs opens at the Cockpit Theatre. ‘The company’s newly-appointed permanent director’, Barry Edwards, directs a new company – only Del Trew (lighting) remains from the previous company.

Reviews:
Vampire 

‘Nicholas Ball was suitably stern as the Welsh parson, Davis; Michael Harrigan was a stentorian Freud; while Diana Patrick conveyed Dwight’s hang-ups effectively. I do hope that a wider audience will see the play.’ (Jonathan Hammond, Plays and Players June 1973)

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Interviewee reference:

Existing archival material:
Arts Council files at V&A Theatre Archive (ACGB/98/108)

Bibliography:
Vampire by Snoo Wilson and Snoo Wilson Interview (Plays and Players, July 1973)
Vampire also in Snoo Wilson Plays Two (Amber Lane,1979)
Vampire  review  Jonathan Hammond  (Plays and Players ,June 1973)
Carry On Understudies – Theatre and sexual politics in Britain, from 1968 expanded version Michelene Wandor (Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1986)
To Die Among Strangers – Five Plays Michelene Wandor (Journeyman Press, 1984)

Acknowledgements: This page was written by David Cleall