Ghost Boy: a Playwright’s Progress

Ghost Boy: a Playwright’s Progress by Richard Crane

Ghost Boy is an autobiography, which artistically covers Richard Crane’s journey through a fascinating period of British theatre history including The Brighton Combination and the Bradford Festival, as a jobbing actor and aspiring playwright from the mid 60s at Cambridge, joining footlights up to about 1974, a period of the Swinging Sixties and the cultural ferment in which the Bonzo Dog Doodah Band rub shoulders with the John Bull Puncture Repair Kit. Densely packed with detail of artistic process, event-crammed days, reviews, extracts from letters of the time, it is a highly evocative picture of the time, for longer review see here of a London of peeling paint and grubby rooms, crashing on the floors of other people’s pads, where a flat could be rented in a decaying ballroom overlooking Hyde Park. Crane  recreates in touching detail his first love affair with a young man from Mauritius in 1966, when homosexuality was still illegal, his attempts to build a career, signing up for summer stock at Frinton, doing the festivals in Edinburgh, having the good fortune to be hired at Nottingham Playhouse where his friend Chris Parr had secured a trainee directors’ bursary, under Stuart Burge, and in his first season Crane gets to play an array of roles ‘a mute archbishop, a sedan-chair-carrier, a consumptive servant who takes an age to get his lines out because of mucus and bleeding, a crumbling lord, a silhouette of Jack the Ripper, a rescued miner in a mining disaster, a golly who transforms into a Jamaican pickney-boy, and Donalbain’, in those less than PC days; shuttling between jobs and random digs, writing scripts for Germaine Greer and Kenny Everett, meeting Tony Bicat and David Hare. Most interesting  are his accounts of The Brighton Combination, where he performed in John Grillo’s Hello Goodbye Sebastian and Michael Almaz‘s The Rasputin Show, under Noel Greig‘s direction, and of the Bradford  Arts Festival. Despite his protestations at the Bradford student newspaper’s critique, it clearly did operate as Jobs for the Boys, though that becomes more forgivable when the boys commissioning and writing parts for each other include Parr, Crane, Howard Brenton and David Edgar in a period of creative ferment that included such delights as  Brenton’s ‘SCOTT OF THE ANTARCTIC …or What God Didn’t See …. performed on ice at the Silver Blades Rink as the high point of the Bradford Arts Festival, March 1971. It featured David Edgar as God, in a wheelchair; Tim Davies as the Devil, on a motorbike; David Cowling (Ratty from Toad and former President of the Union) as Scott, with his chums Evans, Bowers, Oates and Wilson, on tennis rackets, pulling sledges, falling over, getting up again, falling over etc. In contrast, the Bradford Ice Skating Club performed exhibition skating to Vaughan Williams’s Sinfonia Antarctica…'(p336)!  Crane and partner Faynia Williams continue to make alternative theatre that breaks boundaries and wins awards, with Brighton Theatre.

Susan Croft, Oct 2020