The General Will Group Interview Breakdown
The following people were interviewed by Unfinished Histories as a group in July 2013: Bobby Weaver, Johnny Buck, Ali Hussain, Dusty Rhodes, Sue Imerson, Marion Heap; Alan Richardson, Carol Moss, Joel White
Company: The General Will
Interviewer: Susan Croft
Location: Bradford Playhouse
Precis & timings: Sara Freeman
Interview precis + timings:
Bobby Weaver intro (:34); Johnny Buck intro (1:09); Ali Hussein intro (1:33); Dusty Rhodes intro (2:11); Sue Imerson intro (3:26); Marion Heap intro (4:11); Alan Richardson (4:36); Carol Moss intro (5:14); Joel White intro (6:11).
Plans for a separate interview with David Edgar in London (7:00); Starting points of The General Will, original members and atmosphere of the university (7:35); Chris Parr as fellow in drama (8:23); Albert Hunt and Jeff Nuttall and John Fox at the Art College, a whole kind of atmosphere up and down Great Horton Rd, just outside the university (8:40); Re-enactments of bombing of Dresden, the storming of the Winter Palace (8:50); Drama group at the University, Chris Parr bringing in writers (9:00); Political activity, theatrical activity, situationist/interventionist (9:25); David Edgar correspondent for Guardian, joining discussions, performing with Drama Group, leading to the writing of The National Interest and its performance at Edinburgh in 1970 or 1971 (10:00); Memories of National Interest (12:15); Singing the songs (13:10); Early Arts Council funding (14:15); Venues focused on university venues at start, then arts centers and theatres, trade union halls (15:00); good connections between State of Emergency and the TASC/AUW and Ken Coates slogan right to meaningful work (15:45); Details on Rent, or Caught in the Act (16:54); singing the Rackman song and another part of the sketch (17:10); The Rupert Show (17:44); what did a General Will show look like? Four people, one a woman, red shirts, black trousers, one guitar, very portable, no scenery, some props; classic agit-prop; the van (18:23); Memories of scenery and transit (19:20); forgetting things on a tour to Ireland (20:40); a van that kept breaking down, late arrivals, appeasing people (22:08); The Dunkirk Spirit for the first time, revived later, beginning of Noel Greig’s involvement (24:19); Edgar as writer; company changed in 1974 (25:00); Pub Show is a change, attempt to get much more cabaret (25:45); Dunkirk Spirit — Casino scene as an attempt to visualize the role of money markets, singing songs (26:30); parting of ways with David Edgar (28:00); tension around the role of collectivism (28:40); 1976 Alterative Theatre Directory reads “purpose, to produce David Edgar’s plays” (29:00); remembering chronology of The Prison Show and Amsterdam tour (30:10); Michael Almez directing (31:00); row in Alman Street with David Edgar because company was rewriting and updating State of Emergency (32:00); big crossover of personnel (33:00); changes in the role of agit-prop, blurring of life and company, some getting paid, some not (34:00); then membership of the company begin to be drawn from the residents of Bradford more than the university (34:45); when working with community members the hope was that anyone who worked on a show would receive an equity card, didn’t work (36:00); everything quite fluid in membership, but quite male dominant, women came in from the outside apart from Margaret Robson (39:10); everyone chipped in creatively, a genuinely argumentative debating forum integrating socialism, Marxism, feminism, there was a rigor to the debates (41:00); General will had post show discussions (41:40); being part of Bradford’s community (42:50); we were there for demonstrations or any number of other issues, were part of squatter’s movement, did work with battered women’s refuge in protest of Council policy (43:35); Remembering other companies they interacted with Red Ladder, Belts and Braces, The Association of Community Theatres/TACT (45:30); work of officially becoming a company and registering status to get Arts Council money (46:00); lots going on in London Hull Truck, Common Stock, Joint Stock that they looked to or connected with in Edinburgh (47:00); joining in on the campaign against the closure of the Kirkgate market in Bradford alongside John Fox and Welfare State (48:24); Johnny and Dusty remember they joined the company after a joint Spooners and General Will thing Liverpool (49:30); Noel Greig came up to direct Dunkirk Spirit, first time around, Bobby invites him with David Edgar’s permission (50:40); new dimension introduced – a gay man in the company and there was a very active GLF [Gay Liberation Front] group in Bradford at the time, alongside the feminist activity (51:40); Noel was a great writer and had a way of drawing people out, Noel and David both had track record that was hard to challenge (52:40); the way Noel worked became a further challenge to David Edgar, they both had a track record (54:20); the topic of the “gay takeover” (55:15); Greig came back to direct the revival of Dunkirk Spirit and then stayed (57:10); Bradford/Manningham bohemian community it was all connected, you couldn’t separate it out, constant flow, no compartmentalization of work (58:00); highlights the question of what it means to be a professional actor with an Equity card, what it means to be a member of the community, what it means to be doing political work all blended together, though ‘I’m not suggesting that the Arts Council was funding the revolution’ (58:30)
(Marian had left; Alan will have to leave as well).
Politics around race at the time (:48); Hussein speaks about the community of activists coming out of the art college, public meetings, debates after shows, involvement with defense committee, communicating with the local police (1:00); Hussein and Denise Speight as partners, speaks about how his involvement with her and Gerry MacLachlan brought him into the company for a project with the working title ‘The Immigrant Show’ (3:00); the show eventually had the title Me See Gonna Blow – it is going to blow up sometime (4:44); definition, description of zap and observations on post-zap General Will (6:20); debates General Will had mid 70s anticipated Spivak’s Can the Subaltern Speak (8:10); the empowering experience of the debates and the performances (8:35); people were paid during Me See Gonna Blow, there was a script, overview of its narrative as related to Hussein’s experience applying for asylum, sketches and songs (9:10); the zap was surprise in itself, but it was a kind of logical conclusion of what was already happening in the relationship of the theatre company to its wider environment and the demands of the wider environment for its own representation (12:40); change facilitated by Noel in that sense, but not caused by him, a different type of struggle was emerging (13:30); feeling stuck after The Pub Show (14:40); how do you create revolution and change without creating a destructive force (15:10); complete description of the zap (15:25); Dunkirk Spirit put on for the last time, benefit for International Socialists (IS), Star Pub upstairs, this is when the zap happened (17:25); Noel goes on strike, primed audience breaks out the bucket for donation to support the striker (18:40); activist in Bradford having rows because he wanted to form a gay faction in IS, IS position was: ‘all of these things are going be ironed out after the revolution,’ but in a General Will script later a line was: “we don’t want to be ironed out after the revolution” (19:30); gay claque, confrontation (21:40); exceedingly emotional experience (23:00); but also demands by the women that there should be more women’s participation (24:15); but after a search for purpose, the decision was that the General Will belongs to the community, and the company decided to become a resource to the community (25:10); issue was about the resource, slices of the cake, the whole cake, cake was money from the Arts Council (26:50); Ali departs (28:22); Carol Moss’s perspective as admin, reform vs. takeover (29:00); symbolic end (30:18); constant dispute about who the company should be run by (32:15); you never know where a revolution is going to go (34:00); Festival in 1976, seven plays, week of theatre (34:55); emergence of Road Gang (35:32); Johnny Buck’s perspective, felt hugely raw about it (36:54); hugely interesting debate about theatre, about what is representation, about community (38:50); shows after zap — Lez Be Friends, details of creation and performance (42:10); at that time these were totally off the wall ideas (45:05); not scripted so much as sketches and songs (46:20); debates about use of drag and performances of race (48:00); Present Your Briefs, details, pair of stories, one about a gay man arrested for cottaging, another about single woman trying to keep her child (50:40); more people arrive — Eric Fairchild, Sarah Lawson, Allan Marks, Lou Sumray (52:00); Dusty Rhodes fills in about the Arts Council representative ‘but is it art?’ and ‘there goes the grant’ (52:30); visit to the Arts Council in carnival costumes, almost getting arrested (54:10); The Generally Unwilling, putting together a show because there are no scripts, seemed important to put some of the songs down (54:50); political songwriting movement keeps going (55:50); Eric Fairchild’s experience (57:25); Denise Speight connecting many of the members (58: 30); audience perspective from Allan’s partner, name unclear (59:00); Lou Sumray perspective (1:01: 25); Allan Marks’s perspective (1:02:30); discussion of posters and poster art (1:05); Alan Dick’s perspective from the politicized hippie teachers of Bingley claque (1:06:10); Ian Bloomfield, runs Theatre in the Mill which is an inheritor of General Will tradition, studied General Will at Huddersfield (1:09:20); dealing with complex subjects but also very very entertaining theatre (1:14:00); genuine self-representation coming through (1:15:50); about the collaborative process, not writer is god, testament to being in the community (1:16:10); final thoughts around the circle, about the Arts Council, amateurism and professionalism, community theatre, what is the real General Will, the impact of General Will (1:18:35)