Recreation Ground Theatre Company

Company Name: Recreation Ground

Founders: Frances Rifkin, Susan Glanville, Graham Lucas, Ron Simpson. Maureen Simpson joined in 1972.
Associates from 1972: Roger Coward, Peter Crichton Williams, Mary Brown, John Burrows, Sara Boyes. Company legally incorporated 1973, by Frances Rifkin, Graham Lucas and Maureen Simpson.

Established: 1971

Reason: (1971 – 1973) To present new or neglected short plays in lunchtime theatre and from time to time full length evening work. (1973 – 1978) To create and tour new forms of political theatre. Often in this process to support national and local campaigns, e.g. Anti-fascist, Chile solidarity, etc.

Current status: Disbanded 1979 following Arts Council funding cut in 1977/8

Areas of work: Political

Policy: ‘As a socialist company, we were very clear that the issue of Class was primary for us: the marginalisation of the working class and the absence of a theatre/arts network to serve those audiences was crucial to our thinking. We were an active part of the current debates as to whether or not Class and Gender politics went hand in hand or whether Gender politics stood on its own platform. In terms of ethnicity, our work demanded an integrated company. We did small scale touring. We worked to take challenging and thought provoking social and political theatre out into a range of communities, to people (of all ages, ethnicities) who did not normally go to the theatre; to develop new writing and collaborative work exploring the personal and the affective in the political; to create new audiences and to set up new venues in local and community situations largely avoiding, on principle, established or mainstream theatres; to achieve working collectively under good Equity contracts. To employ multi-cultural companies.’

Structure: Initially, a loose core group, with no legal structure. By 1973, was a charitable company limited by guarantee. In line with regulations then current, Recreation Ground collective was its own Board of directors. We developed a contract that encapsulated co-operative working while recognising the difference between long and short-term membership. All the short-term employees as members of the collective, had an equal vote on the work in which they were involved but they could not alter the main structure or policy of the company.

Based: Worked out of a short-life Camden Council licensed tenancy in Winchester Road, Swiss Cottage, London NW3.

Funding: Initially small project grants then Arts Council of Great Britain (ACGB) revenue funding. Regional Arts touring grants: Greater London Arts, Southern Arts, NW Arts, Northern Arts, amongst others. These supplemented revenue from show bookings, trades councils, trade unions and other progressive organisations. Income also came from hiring out our rehearsal rooms and venue. The ACGB grant was terminated in 1978 due to a comic but fatal dispute over our trip to Belfast in 1976.

Performance venues: ‘Recreation Ground had a building with rehearsal rooms and a venue in Winchester Road. We performed there, as did many other companies. We played trade union halls, church halls, youth clubs. We toured to trades councils, miners’ welfares, and a wide range of working class clubs and other venues, OAP afternoon clubs, tenants’ halls, schools, youth clubs, community centres, some municipal venues, universities etc. Our work with the anti-fascist and Chile Solidarity movements and with the Grunwick Strikers helped open up many venues to ourselves and to other companies.’

Audiences: In the lunchtime period, the normal theatre-going London public. From 1973, depending on the play, the audiences ranged in age, gender and race, from groupings like trade unionists, community groups such as tenants associations, young people in schools and youth clubs, afternoon clubs for older people, campaigning groups like Chile Solidarity.

Company Work and Process: Recreation Ground functioned between 1971 and 1978, initially in London lunchtime venues and then on national and local touring circuits with work aimed at specific audiences.

1971 – 73
From 1971 to 1973, Recreation Ground ran two early Lunchtime Theatre Clubs in London at the Lamb and Flag pub, Covent Garden, and additional lunchtime and evening shows at the Act Inn Theatre at the Duke of Argyll, Brewer Street, Soho. Funded by Arts Council, the work covered lesser known plays by Marivaux, Karinthy, Ionesco, Chekhov, Cocteau, Obaldia, Schnitzler and Arrabal, and new plays by writers such as Howard Barker, David Mowat, Michelene Victor, Henry Livings, James Saunders, John Burrows and John Harding. Other plays were collaborations by company members. In-house directors were Frances Rifkin, Peter Crichton Williams, Graham Lucas and Roger Coward.The company invited visiting directors, such as Geza Partos, the Hungarian director who had fled his country in 1956, as well as offering the space to other theatre companies such as the Cervantes Players led by Hovhanness I Pilikian.

Aiming to expand, the company negotiated for and got given premises by Camden Council in short-life housing at 31 Winchester Road, Swiss Cottage. The company wanted to develop their own writing and were committed to producing political plays that toured different communities. Frances Rifkin was the artistic director; Maureen Simpson, production and stage manager, tour organiser, booker and admininstrator; and Graham Lucas was playwright, designer, set builder, technician and occasional director. As the work increased, Dave Statham was brought in to take over the finance and building administration, and Mary Brown took on the dramaturge as well as working alongside Maureen on the tour bookings and publicity. In particular, Paula Tinker, John Levitt, John Burrows and Brian Davey as actor-members made valuable contributions to the ongoing work. It became Recreational Ground’s policy, both personally and organisationally, to derive the impetus and material for their work from the people, events and movements they were involved in; also to hold discussions for exchange and research after every performance.

Touring to community venues was very new and Maureen spent time building up new audiences, liaising with communities and showing them how to organise for a theatre company – all very innovative work. Graham designed and made the sets. He pioneered the use of modern materials so that the set was light enough for one person to carry, could go through a standard door and fit into the van, taking no longer than forty-five minutes to set up or strike. Frances made productions that relied on collaboration between performers able to securely and creatively deal with complex and changing audiences.

The accommodation with rehearsal and meeting spaces at Winchester Road became a hub of community theatre and other community activists. Recreation Ground was very active in setting up The Association of Community Theatres (TACT), which campaigned for Equity rates and contracts for professional alternative theatre actors. Not only did they do community theatre but ‘we were a community of alternative theatre.’ (Graham Lucas 2013) Recreational Ground offered cheap rehearsal and performance space to other companies. In particular they offered a home to the Chilean company, Teatro Popular Chileno, driven into exile after the 1973 military coup. The building also became a hub for companies organising together to share work and unionise: TACT, The Association of Community Theatres, was founded and met there.

1973 – 75
Seeing Red
(1973-75) was the first production in the new premises. It was devised in the consciousness of the growing debate between class and gender in the Feminist movement. A stylised comedy, it explored the middle class heroine’s growing consciousness of herself as a worker. It was devised and then toured locally and nationally on two motorbikes, by the three-woman cast: Sue Glanville, Sara Boyes and Frances Rifkin with Maureen Simpson as stage manager.

Involvement with the growing national anti-fascist movement followed. Do You Remember Cable Street (1975) and Remember Cable Street (1975) were anti-fascist plays created by the company in response to the rise of the anti-fascist movement confronting the National Front and Column 88 fascist organisations. These attracted threats from both these groups, culminating in an attack, just prevented by stewards, of a performance at Bradford Library Theatre in 1975 on 20th November. By some coincidence, that was the day of Franco’s death which was celebrated by the audience before the show.

1976 – 78
(1977) emerged from the Grunwick picket line and the experiences of the Asian women who were on strike, in particular Mrs Jayaben Desai. Resistance was written by the Irish playwright, Carolyn Swift with music by Cornelius Cardew of People’s Liberation Music and the Scratch Orchestra. United We Stand (1976) was a play critical of the British government’s position on Northern Ireland. It was performed in Belfast at Andersonstown Social Centre and Belfast University, as well as on tour at meetings in mainland Britain. The company agreed to perform this play, in support of the call for British Imperialism to withdraw from Northern Ireland. People’s Liberation Music, led by Cornelius Cardew the composer, also performed in support at the same venues. The visit to Belfast was self-funded: use of public funds was agreed by company members to be inappropriate. This did not prevent the subsequent standoff with the Arts Council.

In 1976, Recreational Ground, working with Chile Solidarity, toured a new play, Twelve Shifts Of Gear, by Juan Vera, a Theatro Popular member. It was set among Chilean rural workers in the run-up to Pinochet’s coup and the death of Allende.

Around this time (1976), the company decided that a bit of fun was in order and wrote comedies for young people, toured in schools and youth clubs and also to adults. Graham Lucas’s three plays Carrots (1976) and Rewards (1976) were farces, and anti-capitalist plays and A.F.- O.K! (1978), explained and showed the consequences of fascist manipulation on a group of young school friends and how they could handle it. While educational authorities did not object to the political messages of these plays they did forbid Recreation Ground to use the word ‘knickers’, which of course, they agreed not to do.

Recreation Ground was cut off from funding in 1978 by Arts Council. The stated reason during a meeting with the Theatre Committee was the performances of United We Stand at the Bridge public house in Newcastle to an audience including Bernardette Devlin/McAliskey and in Northern Ireland.

Recreation Ground set up a local organisation, the Swiss Cottage Urban Arts and Recreation Experiment 1 (SCUARE 1). This acted as an umbrella organisation for the arts and other groups in the short-life housing situated on the five acre site which Camden Council was planning to build over, stretching north from the Swiss Cottage library and Hampstead Theatre Club. It fought for a permanent arts hub and recreation area on this site, a campaign which was largely successful – one arm of which was the hugely popular Winchester fairs.

Personal appraisals and thoughts:
For reflections on the work of Recreation Ground click here

For Sylvia
‘Brilliant…Delicately absurd.’ (The Times, 1972)
‘Distinguished.'(Time Out, 1972)
It argues passionately for democratic art.’ (The Guardian, 1972)
‘The piece recognises that the standard motive for making a film-stage documentary is to produce a work people will admire; not to change the situation. What holds the show on course is the honest and intelligence with which it avoids that trap.’  (Irving Wardle, The Times, 1972)
‘One of the extremely creative items which Recreation Ground have brought to this year’s Fringe.’  (The Scotsman, 1972)
The Trick
‘…a moral fantasy…in present-day money-grubbing society… the play’s strange atmosphere is induced by a mixture of reality and fantasy with everyone except Len playing several parts. It suggests more depth than it actually possesses, but with re-writing could make a rewarding half-hour  television play.’ (Stage and Televison Today, September, 1973)
‘…at the rehearsal last Thursday they were still learning new scenes transcribed from tape-recorded improvisations- they’ve been at it seven weeks…I sensed a ‘cosmic’ tone of disillusion generalised, groping for a subjective common denominator which they will merrily apply to the’whole of society…’ (Time Out, 1973)
Seeing Red
three women in Recreation Ground…devised a play through discussion and improvisation around Sue’s rising consciousness of her position. Eventually she identifies her own oppression as part of the class struggle…The play is wittingly and compellingly put together but the resolution is simplistic…Watch out for Recreation Ground and Seeing Red, it raises enough questions to keep the audience sitting arguing for  over an hour after the play ended.’ (Spare Rib, 1973)

For more reviews click here 


Two Concerts of Music
Ivan Hume Carter and his Orchestra
Rhythm Studies for Drums by Michael Parsons
Cockpit Theatre, London1971
You Two Can Be Ticklish
Writer: Michelene Victor
Director: Roger Coward
Lamb and Flag, London1971
Writer: Michelene Victor
Director: Roger Coward
Lamb and Flag1971
Writer: Bob Graham
Director: Peter Crichton-Williams
Lamb and Flag1971
Lieutenant Gustl
Writer: Arthur Schnitzler
Director: Peter Watson
Translator: Peter Watson
Lamb and Flag1971
Steinway Grand
Writer: Ferenc Karinthy
Director: Geza Partos
Lamb and Flag1971
England Expects
Writer: Terence Lewis
Director: Roger Coward
Lamb and Flag1971
Victims Of Duty
Writer: Eugene Ionesco
Director: Peter Watson
Lamb and Flag1971
The Achievements Of Man As Recorded In The Guinness Book Of Records
Writer: Peter Crichton Williams
Director: Peter Crichton
Lamb and Flag1971
Pongo Plays
Writer: Henry Livings
Director: Pedr James
Cast included Marilyn Finlay
Lamb and Flag1971
Island Of Slaves
Writer: Marivaux
Director: Michael Bucks
Translator: Michael Bucks
Lamb and Flag 1971
Face Ache
Writer: Howard Barker
Director: Roger Coward
Lamb and Flag1971
Wide Open Spaces
Writer: Rene DeChaldia
Lamb and Flag1971
Who Killed Who in Timbuctoo
Writer: Terence Lewis and the company
Director: Frances Rifkin with David Allister
Lamb and Flag1972
Directors: Frances Rifkin with Miranda Bell
Lamb and Flag1972
Of The Feast
Writer: Colin Mortimer
Director: Pedr James
Deigner: Fanny Tempest
Cast: Marilyn Finlay, Bill McQuirk, Stuart Richman, Johnny Worthy, Sheila Kelley, John Harding
Lamb and Flag1972
Prague 68 "Wish You Were Here"
Collectively written
Director: Les Blair
Lamb and Flag1972
For Sylvia
Writer: John Burrows and John Harding
Lamb and Flag
Edinburgh Fringe Festival
The Bear
Writer: Chekhov
Director: Hovhanness I Piliklan
Translator: Gail Rademacher
Cast: Cervantes Players
Lamb and Flag1972
Fat Songs For Thin People
Writer: Peter Brett
Director: Peter Brett
Edinburgh Fringe1972
Writer: John Anstis Director: Roger Coward
Cast included Stewart Harwood
Edinburgh Fringe
The Act Inn, London
Faking A President
Writer: David Cohen
Director: John Antiss
Edinburgh Fringe1972
Out Of The Box
Writer: Kipper Kids
Director: Martin Hasselburgh, Brian Routh
Edinburgh Fringe1972
Writer: David Mowat
Director: Frances Rifkin
Edinburgh Fringe1972
The Triangle
Director:Joe Fairclough
Lamb and Flag1972
Picnic On The Battlefield
Writer: Fernando Arrabal
Director: Geza Partos
Lamb and Flag1972
Better Days, Better Knights
Writer: Stanley Eveling
Director: Robert Cushman
Lamb and Flag, London1972
Now There's Just The Three Of Us
Writer: Mike Weller
Director: Peter Moss
Lamb and Flag1973
The Trick
Writer: The company
Director: John Burrows
Cast: Vass Anderson, Ken Gregory, Guy Groen, Caroline Holdaway
The Act Inn
Oval House, London
The Petty Bourgeois
Writer: Maxim Gorky
Director: Geza Partos
Cast included Susan Glanville, Steve Hoy and drama students
The Act Inn1973
Duet For One
Writer: Jean Cocteau
Director: Graham Lucas
The Act Inn1973
Seeing Red
Writers:Sara Boyes, Sue Glanville, Frances Rifkin
Director: Frances Rifkin
Cast: Sara Boyes, Sue Glanville, Frances Rifkin
The Act Inn
National Tour
Do You Remember Cable Street
Devised by the company
Director: Frances Rifkin
Cast included Ian Milton, Errol Shaker,Julie Holledge
National Tour1975
Remember Cable Street
Devised by the company
Director: Frances Rifkin
Cast Included: Derek Thompson, Stewart Harwood, Alan Igbon
Unity Theatre,
Edinburgh Trades Council
National Tour
Writer: Graham Lucas
Director: Frances Rifkin
Cast: included Peter Porteous, Paula Tinker, Graham Padden, John Levitt
National tour of Young People's venues and schools1976
United We Stand
Writer: Chris Coleman
Director: Frances Rifkin
Cast included Fraser Cairns, Martha Gibson, Paula Tinker, Frank McDermott
Queens University, Belfast
Andersons Town Social Club, Belfast
National Tour
Writer: Graham Lucas
Director: Frances Rifkin
Cast included Paula Tinker, Victoria Plum, Brian Davey, Jessica Swift, Martin Burrows, Chris Adamson, John Levitt, Frank McDermott
National Tour including East Kilbride, Edinburgh, Dundee- young people's venues/schools1976/77
Twelve Shifts Of Gear
Writer: Juan Vera
Director: Frances
Cast included Paula Tinker, Victoria Plum, Brian Davey, Jessica Swift, Martin Burrows, Chris Adamson, John Levitt
ICA, London
National tour including Bradford
Writer: Carolyn Swift
Director: Frances Rifkin
Cast included Josie Welcome, Brian Davey, Trevor Laird, Torquil Heatherington,
Music: Cardew Cornelius
National Tour including Bradford Library theatre1977/8
A.F - O.K!
Writer: Graham Lucas
Director: Frances Rifkin
Cast included Paula Tinker, Brian Davey, John Levitt
Touring schools1978


Carolyn Swift (Ricorso)
Frances Rifkin (Utopia Arts)
A Biased History of Political Theatre  – recording of a talk by Frances Rifkin
Composer Cornelius Cardew

Existing archives: includes posters, press cuttings, tickets, programmes, held by Recreation Ground

Stages of the Revolution by Catherine Itzin, (Eyre and Methuen, 1980)
Alternative Theatre Directory edited by Catherine Itzin (Eyre and Methuen 1979)
Spare Rib (Feb 1975)
The Leveller  (Nov 1977)

This page was written by Graham Lucas, Frances Rifkin and Maureen Simpson in collaboration with Iris Dove. The page was created by Iris Dove. November 2013

This page was created with the support of the National Lottery through the Heritage Lottery Fund.