Blood Group

Company name: Blood Group

Established: 1980, First show 1981

Founders: Anna Furse, Suzy Gilmour

Reason: ‘I was primarily interested in trying to find a language for how I felt our minds were working. I was trying to find a translation for a feminine unconscious – how we were thinking and how we might translate that into form. I set the agenda of violence and power across their various projects.’ (Anna Furse 2013)

Current status: Disbanded in 1986 when Anna Furse was appointed Artistic Director of Paines Plough.

Area of Work: Women’s, Experimental

Policy: Work always devised. They called their type of work ‘women’s physical visual theatre.’ Described as painterly by press. Toured the UK and European festival circuit. Able to develop projects over a long period of time and stretch touring time over a year-long term in which the work was constantly being developed.
Anna Furse: ‘Blood Group was formed in 1980, a company of women motivated to produce an authentic theatre of visual and physical statement. A strong background in experimental dance, theatre and visual arts converge into a performance language which integrates composition, image, poetics and politics.’
Their artistic policy was to forge new language, feminist surrealism. A way of making a very poetic and physically strong feminist theatre that related to issues but did not deal with issues didactically in a politically overt way, but rather a more unconscious resonance.

Structure: No Board. Project-based. Employed technicians, designers and performers per project but with regular collaborators e.g Kate Owen (Scenography) and Rick Fisher (Lighting). The administration was done by the company until money was available to hire one. For a period of time Artsadmin became their administrator.

Based: London

Funding: ACGB (Arts Council Great Britain) and GLAA (Greater London Arts Association), income from touring and teaching

Performance Venues: Drill Hall, Oval House, York and Albany, Cockpit Theatre, Half Moon, Albany Empire, Battersea Arts Centre, ICA, Contact Theatre Manchester, Midland Group Nottingham, Dartington Arts Centre, UK University theatres, European festival and experimental performance circuit

Audiences: Varied mixed theatre and experimental theatre-going/ feminist organisations/ students

Company work and process:
Anna Furse: ‘The Oval House was very nurturing. We were very organised and very hand-to-mouth at the outset. The very first piece we made, Barricade of Flowers, which premiered at the York and Albany, was made over the period of a year. At the time there was a place in Regent’s Park called the Women’s Free Arts Alliance which was free and they gave us the space to develop the work giving us a very long gestation. But as soon as money and wages came things started to get more compressed and as we grew our rehearsal periods got shorter and more intensive. Up until Cold Wars, which was our largest company piece, we were trying to make work over time. I would suggest themes and topics to Suzy, then we would flesh out a project description for our grant application and we would either adhere to it or depart from it. In 1984/85 I was established as Artistic Director.’

Personal appraisal & thoughts:
Anna Furse: ‘Working under Thatcher: in a way Blood Group was formed because of Thatcher. I left England when Thatcher came to power and lived in Europe with my partner and then I decided to come back to England and make my own work. A lot of Blood Group’s work came out of the grim political landscape of the time. The piece which was directly related to Thatcher’s policies was Dirt, which was about pornography, was subtitled, ‘The sex of theatre and the theatre of sex’. It related directly to the Falkland’s War (the soldier’s were given pornography on the ships before going in to battle) and how the press was phallocentric. Cold Wars was made in response to Greenham Common. Everyone at the time felt a very real anxiety about the nuclear threat. It was an anxious dark time where our imaginations were being fuelled by this threat – the Thatcher/Reagan alliance. It was also influenced by Pina Basuch’s male/female chorus work. It was a kind of lament for the world we felt we were losing through the idea of the nuclear family which was a pun on the nuclear situation. All work was barefoot unless we put shoes on for a specific reason.’

‘Blood Group constantly set up and knock down our notions of what is and isn’t performance in the theatrical sense, replacing it with the preparation and the aftertaste, the left-out bits, and the beyond-the-wings we never see.’ (Stella Hall, Performance Magazine)
Strokes of Genius
‘Simply but amazing powerful … an ever questioning and though provoking show.’ (The Scotsman)
‘A company with a sharp taste for the surreal.’ (The Guardian)
‘A brilliant piece of theatre, complex, expansive and rewarding. (Spare Rib)
Barricade of Flowers
‘Anna Furse and Susie Gilmour show their courage in the use of such language as a ‘text’ for their piece, thus illustrating their concept of ‘colonisation’ – women’s internalisation of their experience of the violence of male society. Striking images provide a powerful counterpoint to the often painful words.’ (Lynn MacRitchie, Performance Magazine)


Barricade of Flowers
Co-deviser/Dramaturg: Anna Furse
Cast: Anna Furse, Suzy Gilmour (co-deviser)
Designer/Technician: Cayenne Woods

York & Albany
Oval House
European Tour
Co-devisor/Director:Anna Furse
Co-deviser: Suzy Gilmour
Cast: Anna Furse, Suzy Gilmour, Stephanie Pugsley, Sianed Jones (musician)
Design: Kate Owen
Lighting: Rick Fisher
Sountrack: Sylvia Hallett
Painter: Jane Gifford
Film-maker: Jeanette Iljon

Cockpit Theatre, Edgar Wood Centre, ICA, UK and European tour1983
Cold Wars
Director/dramaturg: Anna Furse
Cast/ co-devisers: Simon Cassell, Suzy Gilmour, Craig Givens, Mine Kaylan, Giovanna Rogante and Anna Furse
Sound Collage: Sylvia Hallett
Design/Lighting: Kate Owen

Oval House, ICA, Toured Britain and Europe1984
Come What May
A site-Specific outdoor Maypole event for Alternative Arts, Covent Garden, commissioned by Women Live 1984
Conceived and directed by Anna Furse
Maypole created by: Jane Gifford
Cast: Anna Furse, Suzy Gilmour, Bernadine Evaristo, Tanya Myers + many more
Writer: Deborah Levy
Director: Anna Furse
Cast: Mine Kaylan, Andrzej Borkowski
Sound/Lighting: Dave Baird
Oval House, Toured UK
Strokes of Genius
Devisors: Anna Furse and Suzy Gilmour
Director: Anna Furse
Cast: Anna Furse and Suzy Gilmour
Design: Kate Owen
Sound mix composed by: Philip Jeck
Lighting Design: Rick Fisher and Sabrina Hamilton
Drill Hall, Toured Britain and Europe including Polveriggi Festival1986

Interview reference: Anna FurseKate Owen.

Acknowledgements: This page was constructed by Phoebe Ferris-Rotman with the help of Anna Furse (Blood Group Artistic Director and co-founder). November 2013

This page was created with the support of the National Lottery through the Heriate Lottery fund