Location: Patrick Barlow’s home in Wood Green
Interviewer: Susan Croft
Technician: Loren Berlinka
Topics List: Susan Croft
NB A further interview with Patrick Barlow was conducted in July 2016 and will be available and added to the web page as soon as possible.
Length 02:00:21 (including reading of poems from the Fun Art Bus book)
For video timings see Patrick Barlow Video Topics List
00.00.00 Beginnings. Middle to upper-class background in Midlands. When young became obsessed by acting and stories. Parents had big house with enormous garden which became a playground for his stories. Went to school – not a lot of acting but stood in for someone in a performance –heard audience laughter for the first time: it was like a drug. Went to public school i.e private. A horrible experience apart from Drama. Had a terrible stutter. Drama teacher took him under his wings, got him a speech therapist: the stammer disappeared on stage. Small part in All My Sons [Arthur Miller] then big parts like Shylock. Caliban in The Tempest [Shakespeare], A Man for All Seasons [Robert Bolt]. PB directed John Arden’s The Business of Good Government, a sort of nativity play – later became obsessed by nativity plays and has written a few. Scraped into Birmingham Univ to do Drama and English combined. Hated Uppingham School – fagging, military etc. except for drama teacher Mr Bradley. Parents very proud and supportive –no problems with doing theatre but they did recommend University rather than Drama School.
00:04:40 University. Birmingham an interesting choice – going there led him to everything else – Inter-Action, meeting his first wife and having his children. Otherwise maybe he would have just been an actor not a writer. He did loads of plays through the Drama Club at Birmingham – 40 or 50 – he was good, could make people laugh. Best friend was Geoff Hoyle (GH) – brilliant mime/ clown/comic movement person. Taught by Clive Barker (CB), ex-Joan Littlewood group. Group of them at Birmingham were interested in theatre for social ends, political – v. snotty about West End. CB very feisty, left-wing, was an inspiration – suggested that they go to meet ED Berman (EB or Ed) in N London – in 1968, because he was doing interesting stuff. Other students were writing to reps.
00:07:10 Meeting Ed Berman/ early Inter-Action (I-A). They went down the M1 in PB’s Mini – Barry Kyle (BK), Tim Currie (TC), Judy Lowe (JL, Kate Beckinsale’s Mum) – met EB at this shop opp. The Roundhouse (which Arnold Wesker was running [as Centre 42]) No audition or interview. PB stayed. Intimidated by EB who wooed him. Offered them £7 a week – you could live on that. And accommodation – a sleeping bag in the back of the shop (later became Belgo, Chalk Farm Rd). He had a vision – they were going to do kids’ work, street theatre troupe, work with community, lunchtime theatre – none of which existed. Starting from an empty shop. PB thought it all sounded wonderful. Got food from local pub. There was a cold tap. EB had upstairs office and this terribly posh guy David was working with him as ‘business partner’ and Naftali Yavin (NY) – scary Israeli, frightening theatre person – JL, TC and BK more interested in that work – TOC [The Other Company]. But TC and JL got parts in Hair days later. PB v snobby about it. BK was very political but he left after a day. Paul Morrison (later BBC) was there – interested in film. NY was running workshops – v ‘arty’, serious ‘arty’ rather than political. A big room at the front where they did workshops. Bob Hoskins was there. EB was a playwright then – he was writing a play for every house of the astrological calendar – Bill Bailey and Marie Isaacs (MI) were involved. EB wanted wide-eyed kids from university. Promise was they would run their own company one day. PB became ASM on Virgo by EB at the ICA. Marowitz was doing Open Space e.g. Hamlet. Jim Haynes, EB, Pip Simmons, giants of alternative theatre: all doing weird stuff. Horace Ove [film-maker] – his new-born baby (now an actress – very beautiful) was in the show – PB had to drive and pick up her and the nanny. Constantly you were meeting extraordinary and interesting people. EB was going to write Pisces, set in Swiss Cottage swimming pool – but never got that far.
00:18:05 Lunchtime Theatre. [SC asks about Ed B’s Sagittarius at Theatre Space]. I-A work was also at the Ambiance doing lunchtime theatre – PB dragooned into stage-managing. Place was run by Junior ‘J’ Telfer (JT), a West Indian who wore a cool blue turban. Had a frightening manageress – really scary. They had to take the lights from the restaurant downstairs every morning and set them up in the basement. JT slept in the toilets. EB had a show called The Nudist Campers Grow and Grow. MI was in it. Everyone took their clothes off. EB told PB he was talented. Black Power Season with Ed Bullins. Michael X came to shows – he had a fly whisk like Jomo Kenyatta. Scary. Directed by Roland Rees, also frightening until you got to know him. Used to shout a lot – everyone in a terrible state all of the time. Jim Hiley (JH) from Birmingham via CB (now in Bangkok). JH, excellent director; at Birmingham he did a brilliant Brechtian version of Henry V as an anti-war play, before anyone had thought of this. Joined I-A as an administrator. Knew where everything was. EB Stopped directing at I-A. CB was on the Board, recruiting people. EB gradually building a rather brilliant little community. GH came – much more obvious ready-made clown – a real find. PB personable, good fun, good with kids, adaptable. JH – brilliantly organised. PM doing movies. Zanne Knot (Z) [later Zanne Findlay]– had a little dog – became house mother and did all the cooking – actors’ community growing. All were about 19, incredibly young. People started having relationships with each other. Chaos. PB working at Ambiance play after play. All the critics came. Did The Window by Frank Marcus. They had to leave – lease ran out or Ed had a row – v. volatile.
00:25:51 Dramascapes and Games sessions.‘He kept telling us we were the Dogg’s Troupe – Dogg R.L , but no-one did anything’. Did a big Dramascape with Kensington and Westminster. One took place under the Westway – they built a huge whale called Moby Dick and a huge Gulliver. It all came from Ed. All unpaid. Youth leaders would be dragooned in, local kids had never seen anything like it. People would donate wood. Other from univs – summer volunteers would have building skills. JH and Z ran things. They’d go off in some dreadful old donated van to local cash-and-carry for bulk cornflakes etc. Tony Cole – craftsman, helped out and did lighting. People drifted in and out. The Mini got wrecked from over-use. NY working on Offending the Audience by Handke – interesting work but Dogg’s Troupe very sniffy about it – saw themselves as more political. EB got them a gig on telly doing show for kids in hospital. Meeting Joan Littlewood with EB in a cafe – he and she were going to do a Stations of the Cross type play around London on social issues – it never happened. EB was going to get an island to be run entirely by kids, with passports. Lots of ideas, EB a visionary, an exciting guy to work with. He ran games sessions – taught PB how to do it. Ed had invented them. NY did same thing with actors.
Based on American kids camp games. All in a circle. EB took the form and grafted things onto it. 10-30 people usually but you could do it with lots. You’d clap a rhythm pattern sitting round the circle – then say your name. Then tell a story. There was a structure – what was revolutionary was that it was a way of guarding against chaos. People would tell a story and act it out in the middle. He would work with mental patients, many other groups. EB emphasised that it was not therapy but it worked very well in those contexts – make a sound or movement about how you feel, or how you feel about the person in the middle, go up and stand in front of the person you feel closest too, would like to get closer to etc. PB became very good at doing these. EB very good at hyping people and would announce him in ludicrous fashion as the most talented game-leader in the northern hemisphere! But PB did get good at it. Sometime v scary contexts. Some amazing stuff happened including with rough tough kids. PB now uses lots of participation. National Theatre of Brent are very good at using the audience, where a lot of actors aren’t. Ed taught him a lot about working with audiences without fear. With scary kids you’d battle on until you found a game that worked. Usually something would work and take you beyond the chaos. Prisons, remand homes, turning chaos into something more creative.
Ed was unbelievable working with kids. One kid pulled a knife on him. Ed dealt with it – got the knife off him and incorporated it into the drama, where a warder wanted to intervene. Ed worked on promises ‘Do you wanna make a movie?’ as way of dealing with an awkward kid – he then managed to come up with the camera for next week. He’d talk without thinking but would deliver. Not a guru but an impressive practical example of how to get things done. He’d shout at people till they coughed up. An inspirational person.
Games in dramascapes – at 4.pm. there would be a circle and then games about for example about Gulliver (his stomach was the cafe). ‘Gulliver says’- as in ‘Simon Says’ ‘How are you feeling Gulliver?’ – everyone takes turns in being Gulliver. A coming together time – playing games but themed around the work -building Moby Dick, building a dinosaur. Not necessarily leading to a show at the end.
00:45:00 Dogg’s Troupe. Looking for something for Brighton Festival – they wanted a children’s show on end of the (now burnt) pier – then unused – a fantastic 1930s ballroom – EB would offer, say, Revolution Workshop – a show they’d not yet created. PB would write the songs as he played a bit of guitar. It would be written and rehearsed in a few weeks. A piece about Charles II escaping from Brighton after the battle of Worcester. GH went to Paris to study mime. PB as Cromwell, JH (as Charles II), Gwyneth Surdeval (pregnant) as Nell Gwyn. Clowning, battles, local kids, rehearsed at 72 Chalk Farm Rd. EB knew Brighton Combination – Jenny Harris, Noel Greig. It may have been them who approached Ed. A fantastic show. First piece of children’s theatre – they had natural aptitude. Enough structure to make it happen. It worked every time. Then Ed said they’d do a street show based on comic heroes – Ed was Superman. PB was Robin the Boy Wonder. Jim was Batman. Gwyneth was Catwoman with her baby as Superbaby. Lots of easily adapted songs. PB’s next-door-but-one neighbour remembers them as the Moonmen, which her mother dreaded – she wouldn’t know where the kids were – they’d gone off after the Moonmen. New people joined. Jeff met Mary (they later had 3 kids), PB met Meg, the mother of his kids, David Powell (DP) met Harriet [also Powell]. I-A supper cooked by Z – everyone was part of the cooking and washing up rotas – by now in the factory at Cressy Rd – 1971. The factory, Cressy Rd was a big space with a panelled office, they built a kitchen. Didn’t live there. Houses in Rhyl St, 158 Maldon Rd – houses from the council for 50p per week. Chris Bailey (CBai) had joined – a v. interesting guy. Moonmen – someone heard that the Charlie Drake Moon Show at Palladium had gone bust – they bought or acquired 20 Moonmen costumes – the most boring show as they had no individual identity. Ed as reporter. Jim was Lord Mayor. GH had to be something where he could turn into things so was Dr What (ref. Dr Who) – had a loud voice and was quick-witted. He could become something just like that.
00:58:47 Susan asks about the show where they wore fake heads on top of their heads. It looked good but was really hard as they were impossible to hold. Each performer had to go and get latex facemasks made – another face on the back and a head on top with faces either side – 4 faces. Unwieldy and kept falling off. Can’t recall the name of the show. All the shows had names: one show was called Technicolour Peelers – all performers had different coloured police uniforms – completely exact but in different bright colours, and a police bicycle. Who made the costumes? PB doesn’t know but someone brilliant. By contrast Superman was terrible old tights from M&S and a T shirt each. One show was called Eskimos. An American girl called Judy played the North Pole. Jeff was a mad penguin. We had funny old Eskimo outfits. The premise was the North Pole had been stolen and the kids had to get it back. Head show was based on the 2-headed god Janus, Ed said, god of January – they didn’t know the story. ‘I don’t think we ever made it work though’. This was around the time the Fun Art Bus came into our lives.
01:02:08 Father Xmas Union. Susan: Were you also involved in the Father Xmas Union?. ‘Oh God, yes I was I was involved in everything’. It was the first and only time I have ever been arrested. It was quite scary. All Ed – challenging, frightening and also amazing he had the gall to do it. Ed was not intimidated by a uniform the way we English people were. He would shout at the police ’Back off – we’re doing a show!’ We English would say ‘Fine we’ll move. I’m so sorry’
Outside Selfridges on wide pavement – the FXU and we also had Mother Xmases by then as the women in I-A said why is it always men? It was a very sexist organisation, but then everything was in the 70s. It was before feminist theatre companies which was the 80s. It was just before people began to say ‘Hang on a sec’ and in the arts world it was shocking looking back how sexist it was, but we didn’t even think at the time. Paul Morrison’s partner was a really interesting woman, Lucy Goodison (LG), writes books, on women’s therapy and about Minoan goddess religion in Crete. She and Jeff’s partner, now his wife, Mary used to really challenge us. Feminism was just beginning: Ed may have tried to stop women coming into… it was all a bit ridiculous – we abolished marriage once. We didn’t know what we were talking about! We abolished property too – we all had to put our LP records into the pool, which was really annoying. I had lots of lovely albums that disappeared!
I’ve never quite delved back into that because I feel embarrassed really, but we were quite male-oriented and Ed was certainly male-oriented and we just followed Ed really and didn’t challenge him, until I left. For a while, he – I have great respect for him now, he taught me huge amounts, but it was for a while like leaving your parents that you don’t want to admit they’re influential so you hate them. A childish response. But he was a bit naughty – he didn’t like being challenged – threatened if it was a woman’. There were some very interesting strong women just appearing – women with opinions about politics – between 1972 and 1980 my whole life changed. Realising that feminism was probably the answer to the world but at the start it was like a threat, like most great things. LG was head of Mother Xmas Union.
‘We all had just red robes – Ed had a special one made – red velvet trimmed with white! LG asked why he had the really nice one. It makes me laugh. He has a huge ego but somehow it was funny as well. But also he was brilliant. We had banners. It was exciting – a genuine statement’.
Whereas other shows were statements by implication: like Revolution Workshop – though that was in an innocent way a political show about how people should really run things and not kings in wigs and people with money. It was good to say that for kids. There was the famous line that Paul noticed and I used to say on a daily basis: ‘Will the people of England all hold hands, please’ – a fantastic line. All ultimately scripted but terribly rough and ready. Big shows having kids just meeting on a playground and playing games, helping the Moonmen… The Moonmen was about alienation. The Eskimo show about looking for where you belong. They all had an inner themes but we didn’t push it. Until this moment I probably didn’t realise that was what they were about – we didn’t write them like that. We just concentrated on staying alive without having your costume torn off – the kids went mad, the toughest audience – marvellous experience
1.10:08 FXU show was a protest against commercialisation of Christmas – lost the spirit. Owen a West Indian guy, Norman Beaton (NB) – about 30 of us, ED, Dogg’s Troupes and friends dragooned in. They had a big plum pudding on a banner. Costumes were great – though not quite as grand as Ed’s. Liz Leyh hadn’t started yet. Police arrived and said they were causing an obstruction. Ed refused to move on and when asked his name said Father Christmas. They were all arrested – which is what Ed wanted – he had alerted the Press and next day they all had pictures of black Father Christmases – Owen or Norman – arrested by white policemen – it looked very political. They were charged with obstruction and had to go to court – wearing their costumes. Frank Robey was the Judge – his father George Robey was a famous clown who played Falstaff in Olivier’s Henry V but he was not amused. There was a whole trial with the police giving statements and Ed accused them of lying – they were fined £12 each which was a lot! Ed was stricken. Discussion of Whiteleys and Barkers department stores FXU events – at Whiteleys he started giving away the toys. They couldn’t believe it. JH joined in. Staff started going insane. The Manager was spreadeagled against the toys going ‘My stock! My stock!’ They didn’t press charges but they were shown the door fast. One of Ed’s mad ideas. PB’s Mum must have seen the photos in the Press.
01:20:25 Life in the Commune. SC asks about sexual politics of the commune. They rather hoped there would be bed-hopping but relationships tended to be quite intense. SC summarises Ed’s vision of an environmental commune, shared washing machines etc – PB says the others didn’t really have a belief in it. They were more interested in the work than in the living… When PB left I-A EB ran it all and had the artistic vision.They were never quite as committed as he was e.g. to giving records over communally. Excitement of getting their own flats and own kettles etc. PB has never knew how EB got hold of the flats/houses – peppercorn rent was mentioned.
01:24:35 Green Banana (and the Ambiance). Green Banana, West Indian restaurant. Fantastically dodgy nightclub in Frith St. They’d go in and set it up as a theatre in the morning and then set it back up as nightclub for the evening. Brothel upstairs, PB thinks. NB also slept in the loo. PB was setting up the theatre once when 3 big guys in black suits – mafia-types looking for NB. A whole world going on. Possibly drugs. They were very innocent of all that though. Plays were very interesting – The Real Inspector Hound by Stoppard. Harriet Walter was the ASM, aged about 17 – she and PB were both pretty inept. Sheila Hancock and other well-known actors were involved because of interesting scripts. One dimmer board with 4 dimmers. In a Frank Marcus play The Window at the Ambiance Richard Pasco – RSC actor, played a blind man. David Cook played his manservant who tells him what’s going on through the window. Lots of table lights are gradually turned on. One night PB was reading The Guardian but had failed to turn on the master dimmer so no lights came on! Richard Pasco went mad – told PB he’d never work again in the theatre.
01:31:35 Fun Art Bus. ‘Consumed our lives but was no fun to work on’. They wrote plays. It lurched around. Katya [Benjamin, KB], JH… Kind of variety show. Noel Greig directed it. One of Ed’s ideas. But material was rather sub-standard. Trevor, folk singer, was the conductor and sang a blues song he wrote. His wife was the conductress and had a ticket machine which issued poems by Roger McGough or Adrian Mitchell – classy stuff.
Driving round Camden. Leon Rosselson, socialist folk singer, wrote stuff – great guy became very friendly with them – kind of variety show with a point. ‘They are going to build a motorway through my back garden’ – encroachment of development. PB played Mavis the waitress with a beard. KB sang a song about jellied eels.
Very uncomfortable as they always performed when in motion. People would get on and off – they used it for their everyday business. Some would stay on for half an hour and see the whole show. Others got on and off at stops. They couldn’t do a show with a beginning, middle and end. Downstairs were sets of 3 seats facing each other – the smallest cinema in the world. Ed got good cartoonists like Bob Godfrey, also specially-commissioned films. Changed on ground floor. Driver was Taffy Williams who had an electric piano to the side. Trap-door with ladder from changing room where they also kept props– very difficult. There was a waitress sketch. Miniscule stage with curtain they had to operate. EB was on board as compere, as Otto Premiere Check – film producer character – big fur coat, was in the gangway being a compere. Wallpaper and mirrors on the stair. TOC did something. The group thought they could write a proper play. CBai wrote a play about the family with HG as Dad, KB as Mum, GH and PB as two sons – a performing family. They got very into it — Ed quite into it but miffed it wasn’t his idea.
They also got a market stall in Queen’s Crescent – Paul and GH’s initiative – only time they did agit-prop – PB played Camden Council selling off properties to the rich. PB really enjoyed it and felt he’d done it well but thinks EB was probably right. Ed absolutely hated it and thought it had done irreparable damage to their relationship with the council. It was like a test and that became their excuse to leave: first PB, then GH, then PM.
SC: Did the Bus go out elsewhere and did it play statically on estates?
PB says this was after his time. They got a big red… Playbus? Community Media Van. John Perry, Katina Noble were some of those involved later. Also DP stayed on. The others were getting itchy feet and fed up with EB’s increasing domination – not democratic, unsettled by women challenging him about sexism or others challenging his artistic leadership. PB and the others wanted to write a show and weren’t allowed– talented filmmakers, actors, directors. It was like Eliza Doolittle – he’d found them with nothing but by the end they were a really talented group of people. One day Ed put his arm round PB’s shoulders, as they were looking at the Talacre play site and literally said ‘One day this could be yours…’ But PB did not want that; he wanted to write, act, direct. Plans were on the wall for the big community centre – to be run by the people, I-A as a resource, which is what eventually happened, but for PB it had stopped being very interesting.
01:47:45 What happened next. PB went on to work more with Chris Bailey, later founding Solent People’s Theatre with him and he worked with PB at Duke’s Playhouse Lancaster TIE. First though PB got married to Meg who he’d met through I-A and went with her to Manchester where she was a student.
Then got job as TIE Director at Lancaster £40 pw – an amazing amount.
Apart from a rock musical about a corrupt policeman, they did lots of street theatre, lifted from I-A, PB was very good at it, got all the schools participating, marching through the town. A fantastic company. PB blew it a bit because he was a bit arrogant, he thinks. Phil Davis’s first job. Noreen Kershaw, Stephen Boxer, Ken Kitson, Annie Cameron-Bailey, Bobby McIntyre – really good company. Street theatre inspired by /lifted from lifted from I-A e.g. Technicolour Policeman – PB had to prove he could do it – Barmy Army. PB was EB character – Major Disaster – but they had more interesting characters than I-A as they were proper actors. All Human Life is There – Henry Goodman played the policeman, it didn’t completely work but it was exciting. PB directed a devised piece called Lancashire Hotpot. PB started to get arrogant with mainhouse director, accusing him of doing bourgeois commercial work – he’s embarrassed now about saying it – and then he left. It probably came from lack of confidence, PB didn’t really believe in his ability then, even though his work was quite good. Went to Solent – which was then the Solent Song and Dance Theatre – they were 4 actors and realised they weren’t good enough to deserve that name so they had to change it to Solent People’s Theatre. David Pownall was there at Lancaster – PB wrote to him a few years ago to apologise – he wrote proper plays and PB was anti-proper plays. PB still is a bit, but for different reasons – they contain things too much. Then his attitude was ‘the only plays worth doing are plays in the street’, ‘get out of theatres’ etc – an arrogant thing. Now the plays are too careful and too studied. Pownall was a very interesting man – wrote a play about John of Gaunt and a children’s play which PB was cross that he hadn’t written. It was a confidence thing really.
01:54:18 Fun Art Bus poems. Patrick reads some of the poems from the Fun Art Bus book.
A further interview with Patrick on his later career is planned.