Tony Coult Topics List

Tony Coult Topics List taken from his interview with Susan Croft at her home in Stamford Hill, April 2009, recorded by Jessica Higgs.
Video and audio extracts edited by Jessica Higgs.

Personal background and beginnings
Father bank manager, Mother a nurse
Went to a minor private school, played Faustus in a production of same.
General interest in arts and humanities
Went to Birmingham University to do drama, 1966
Course led John Russell Brown
One of first University drama courses of period.
Brown hired Clive Barker (CB) of Theatre Workshop
Quality of course very important to those who attended at that time
Students in years above – Jim Hiley, later of Interaction, then theatre critic; Barry Kyle, became theatre director at RSC; Tim Curry of Rocky Horror fame Tony Coult’s (TC) year included Steve Wright (playwright Stephen Lowe)
These people influenced TC and opened up possibility of theatre being socially relevant, also indirectly to applied theatre work, ideas that flourished in the department
Geoff Hoyle – also part of  and influenced by Albert Hunt’s work
Students were interested in what became defined as ‘Popular Theatre’,‘Brechtian theatre’, ‘Political Theatre’
[Arnold] Wesker & John Arden were figures they became enthused by
Felt their DNA went back to Joan Littlewood, Brecht, Arden’s community work, plays of Charles Wood
All in the air at Birmingham 1966/67
Clive Barker was beginning to talk about theatre games and told how Joan Littlewood would devise ways for her actors to keep playing fresh
Tension between students like himself, the tutors and all those who wanted more traditional training/work
Most inspirational work was that he did with GTG – Guild Theatre Group – which almost became centre for alternative learning

Political climate at university
University didn’t have major sit-ins, but in department they believed theatre should have political and social consequences
Went to North Sea National Student Festival with a highly politicised Henry V – sort of Charles Marowitz production, cut up Brechtian angle
In Europe they perceived they were doing big P political theatre
Looking back he realises Polish Mime and other companies were also doing interesting work

Interplay beginnings
Maggie Amwell (MA), student in year above him, went to Interplay in Leeds TC was at loose end, doing a bit of teaching, MA invited him up to look at their work
Went up in 1971 as a volunteer on playscheme
MA had had the same experiences as him ends up in Interplay which was also influenced by Ed Berman’s (EB) Inter-Action
Birmingham students joined MA at Interplay
Jude Kelly went to Birmingham a bit later and that framed her work at
Solent Young People’s Theatre all the way through to running the South Bank

Interplay and relationship with Inter-Action
EB came over in 1968 – part of wave of Americans who came –  Jim Haynes, Charles Marowitz
EB worked as play leader in Notting Hill [London]
TC thinks EB brought something of the Jewish summer camps, kibbutz thing with him – the camp fire, the circle which was very important formation when working with kids
EB working with heavy kids in Notting Hill, linked up with Leeds based teacher called Carrie Gormley (CG), who’d been teaching at Jacob Cramer Leeds Arts College
After graduating from Manchester she’d worked with Stephen Joseph at Theatre in the Round in Scarborough
CG worked with EB for at least a summer, became attached to his way of working and went to Leeds and developed idea of street theatre and games as a way of developing a creative link with groups of young people
Another idea of CG that games sessions create a community and certain inbuilt dynamics within a circle that are inherently democratic, everyone gets a go, equal respect given
Not same pressure as at traditional youth theatre drama performance about being excellent at your part

CG set up Interplay with 2 or 3other ex-graduates in Leeds
Highly motivated group inspired socially and politically around ‘Inter-Action Game Method’ as it came to be know
As company developed they picked up ideas from Welfare State who were still based in Leeds (1971) before moving to Burnley, who were developing
ideas of street processions & junk instruments on the streets
TC saw contemporary junk rhythm show which Pookie Snackenberger were doing in 1982, Interplay begun it in 1972
Junk aesthetic probably came from Inter-Action

Leeds at the time
Yorkshire was creative hub – Albert Hunt, Hopes for Great Happenings,
Red Ladder, Interplay, Leeds TIE early 70s under Roger Chapman + John Fox, first book about rock history, Interplay bringing Inter-Action’s methodology, one of Britain’s centres of political anarchism, John Coyle  –
History of British Anarchists (worked briefly with Interplay?).
Huge dynamic energy
General Will beginning to come together in Bradford – David Edgar and Noel Greig have their artistic roots there
David Peace’s  book c 1980s. Reclaiming the Night, feminist upsurge
Women in Interplay becoming influenced by second wave feminism and the men took on feminist ideas & perspectives
Big struggles going on
Had their funny side but vitally important moment in British social history in post war going in Yorkshire then
[Susan tells story of Leeds women pulling plugs on a Monstrous Regiment show that wasn’t the right kind of feminist]
After TC’s first play Monstrous Regiment asked him to talk to them
TC made them look at ways Inter-Action was run under EB leadership
Paradox of EB’s macho style with what he encouraged and put in place for others
Coming together from different quarters – how you arranged a company and how that reflected in how you organised society, and that’s how they felt the world should be

Company set up
Bunch of autodidacts – might have done drama course but  really learnt on the job
Different people brought in different perspectives
Sometimes fractious but everyone to work it out on the ground, project by project
No template, no funding, £8 a week pay, shared housing
Picked up what was around
Welfare State gave workshops on processional theatre
Picking up drama students from around.e.g. Linda Bassett (LB) and Deborah Findlay (DF) were doing very first (after Royal Court) production of Edward Bond’s (EBo) Lear
TC had started his book on EBo and TC met him through LB and DF
This group were doing conventional writer-led theatre but radical political
They were called LUS Last Knockings and work fed into general discourse of what was happening
LB worked as company member with Interplay
At end of TC’s time with Interplay people were becoming more self-conscious about not being professional players – it was a mixture of social educational youth theatre work and the artists’ theatre drama side, the street theatre and special needs drama
People became irritable with the mix. Some wanted more time with the kids, others more time rehearsing, which led to a de facto split
One group worked with kids in play centre, whilst others went off acting on the road
After he left they became separate entities

Later comparison was with Perspectives and trying to run it collectively and how to go about this
Book was going round feminist theatre groups called The Tyranny of Structurelessness [by Jo Freeman]– they thought it rather  sensible, didn’t have to have angst-ridden meetings: but can usefully have some structures

Interplay funding
Some Leeds city funding, Gulbenkian
Interplay was a Trust so that money could be held to pay the work for a full time company
Minimal, £8 per week and company house share, core of 4 or 5 people
Based on Interplay, big projects were main focus of work in school holidays, which attracted funding and system of volunteers
Young people, students and school students came in, transforming experience – work to be done and experience of working with underprivileged children from different class was an eye opener and educational
TC began as volunteer and invited to join
Interplay work a series of small summer and winter schools, street processions with kids
Based in run down building in Leeds
Old house with garden surrounded by back–to-backs
Wouldn’t pass today’s health and safety
Focus of work out doors, making things, rehearsing, games sessions
Games sessions were core and it almost became a performance style in itself
Process – a big summer play scheme
Form used was EB’s ‘Dramascape’ – street theatre procession to get kinds together, street drama within procession telling story with a problem to be solved over the following two weeks
Out of the building to a play site where a structure would be built, spin offs of arts & crafts activities
Main project would come together on last day and usually finished with a bonfire of the structure
‘Dramascape’ form very effective, craft with community work, located locally so that everyone could join in
Has inspired present day play schemes which were non existent before their kind of work

Dramascape of the Dinosaurs based on Robert Louis Stevenson’s Journey to the Lost World
Performed Quarry Hill Flats in centre of Leeds where Yorkshire Playhouse now is
Quarry Hill Flats were first social housing project build almost to Bauhaus principles for working class people next to Leeds market
Big procession on first day with characters, band doing junk music aesthetic, gathered kids together, initiated play from original stories in novel – are there still dinosaurs in twentieth century?
Central tasks done through drama, craft, building a structure of dinosaur – which doubled as a climbing frame
They’d go there everyday, pick up a bunch of kids (varied).
Volunteers had done two weeks training with games method so same set of rules to work with
At end of two weeks another giant procession ending with burning of structure in true Welfare State fashion

Moved from Interplay when other close people moved on – LB, David Stafford
TC asked to do research for Leeds TIE and later a member
Expected to do I session a week in a local mental hospital doing games session work with seriously ill ‘mentally handicapped’
During residencies in hospitals through games developed theatre style to work with patients
TC beginning to discover at this time not sufficiently interested in performing

When TC left Birmingham University was going to do MA on EBo
Post-Interplay he picked up on his writing on EBo again, met EBo and Nick Hern and
Methuen commissioned him to complete it
Sort of ‘idiot’s guide to Bond’
Publishers were doing short guides to alternative theatre then, practitioners were buying them, there was a market for them from people in the business Steve Gooch contributed to same series
TC did some reviewing for Plays and Players (19730) commissioned from Michael Coveney, at same time as National Theatre’s new building opening on South Bank
Wrote about Interplay, Belt and Braces, Ken Campbell, Red Ladder, maybe Hull Truck, Women’s Theatre Group in these pieces
Wrote to Michael Kustow to ask what he thought about it, but he was defensive thinking (probably correctly) that TC was going to have a snipe at National
TC was saying that new theatre was on the road in the North of England and not on London’s South Bank.
Theatre journalism and reviewing Plays and Players, Time Out
Moved from Leeds 1974/75
Bit of work with CG who’d gone back to Interplay and was doing a project in Milton Keynes
Left Leeds TIE by then to write EBo book
Worked with Deborah Findlay at Leeds TIE, off shoot of Leeds Playhouse Theatre, very political TIE

Perspectives Theatre Company
1976 wrote EBo book
1978 joined Perspectives Theatre Company in Peterborough
Began as  Key Perspectives and had same relationship with Key Theatre in Peterborough as Leeds TIE and Bolton TIE etc had with local reps
A lot of TIE broke away from reps and became independent
Two great designers at Perspectives, Bill Mitchell (BM, later of Kneehigh) and Annie Smart (AS)
BM intuitive teacher
They generated good ideas from company
BM devised and directed Christmas shows
Fairly feminist ideas-led company through AS and Tricia Kelly (TK)
Shelagh Stephenson had also been a member
Politically literate women in company, as was happening elsewhere
TC introduced them to special needs work which was great
Mostly devised although TC wrote a couple of community plays
Perspectives did kids plays at Christmas in theatre, work in schools, special needs work and adult community drama
Productive environment for him, people open to ideas, like Interplay more discourse than at Leeds TIE

Arts Council and locally-funded TIE’s were funded by local authorities then
TC drawn into GYPT [Greenwich Young People’s Theatre] and SCYPT [standing conference of young people’s theatre] conferences and ensuing maelstroms of the time – it was end of TIE as it had been – due to Thatcher and funding drying up
Thatcher and Kenneth Baker said local authorities shouldn’t fund TIE teams anymore
This brought pressure on teams, and other politics impinged on work too
TC felt trapped between ‘soft’ politics of Left ideology and that of WRP- (Workers Revolutionary Party) influenced companies – Cockpit, M6, Pit Prop
Some feminist ideas which were exciting and powerful challenged WRP ideas, but WRP were asking very pertinent political questions that needed addressing in drama
Cockpit and Geoff Gilham (GG) had a huge influence, brought radical political perspective on work
Powerful piece about English Civil War – lots of theatre around this topic at time. Corin Redgrave talked to them at Leeds TIE ‘this is a revolutionary moment, a fascist state is about to happen…’
Saw plays at SCYPT conferences
Ideological debates between identity politics – race, gender, sexuality – against class.
Theatre Centre run by David Johnston was centre of identity politics.
Feminists and identity-type people gravitated there and similar set ups, whilst class-based people went to Cockpit, M6, Bolton TIE etc.
There were of course cross-overs of interest
All not black and white but different shades. [Susan Croft notes Michelene Wandor’s 3 types of feminism 1) Socialist Feminist 2) Radical Feminist 3) Bourgeois Feminist.     TC: even with those definitions there are overlaps.]
TC found himself conflicted at Perspectives as he wanted to do more Cockpit-type work and they weren’t interested
BM found a lot of the Cockpit work depressing and uninspiring
BM and his partner Sue Hill (SH) work more like Welfare State performance/building based
They moved away from SCYPT as it became very politicised
Times were into second Miner’s Strike (1984)
Funding cuts were causing splits within companies and the work
One SCYPT conference GG suggested everyone get in a bus and go and join the Miners. No, someone said, we’re here for a conference!

TC decides he is going to be a writer. Not a good moment for him as white, middle class, straight male then
Like Theatre Centre most companies then didn’t want that
David Holman who had been writing at Theatre Centre had been edged out by new wave and interest in identity-based plays
On other hand TC had no clout with WRP type companies
Rose Bruford offered him some teaching
TC’s community plays at Perspectives were his first plays
He’d helped with some youth theatre scripts previously and co-written a play about the Fens
First full-length was about history of Peterborough – Ann Jellicoe-[community play] type themes and style.
About Peterborough in 1870s linked with Peterborough in 1970s
BM designed set of Victorian travelling theatre motive
Toured round local villages and theatres
His second play has been his most successful – done 3 times in all
Called Devil on the Heath – set in a US nuclear base in East  Anglia where locals find a nuclear weapon lost by base
Done at a SCYPT conference and taken up by Jenny Harris of New Albany at Deptford where it was remounted
BM did new design. Liz Bradley, older actress, was in it  – floats back as wise old woman floating over Fens
Re-titled after Cliff Richard song ‘If you want to know what heaven’s like, you’ll be there soon’, c 1982/83
New career – writing, journalist, teacher, co-edited book on Welfare State [Engineers of the Imagination], book on Friel

Personal. Met partner Tricia Kelly (TK) at Perspectives
She moved to 7:84 for a while
TK had worked for Women’s Theatre Group, Joint Stock – created roles in Caryl Churchill’s (CC) Fen and A Mouthful of Birds
TC didn’t find it difficult being in a relationship with a feminist. Temperamentally TC better with identity politics, though intellectually more class-based
TC has recently written a book about EBo, edited by David Davis
TC main claim to fame has been carrying a letter from EB to EBo in 1974/75 asking EBo to write a play for the Almost Free – The Swing
EBo is very important to TC and he feels interest in EBo will come back
EBo currently working with Big Brum – applied theatre work
EBo is part of older generation of playwrights, his reworking of Lear, whether by design or not, makes strong feminist points, noted by others and used – e.g. Lears’ Daughters Women’s Theatre Group

Writing and work with young people
TC went to work at Rose Bruford and has been writing and working with young people ever since
Rose Bruford set up a Community Course in direct opposition to the more conventional actor training
Set up by David Parminter
TC worked there with June Mitchell (JM) who ran the community theatre course which was a part of the conventional acting course there
JM was one of the great theatre teachers
TC always there as freelancer, running projects, devising TIE work
Because of his EBo he was hired to teach, especially on modern playwrights
In work and teaching there was a big division between Heathcotians (Dorothy Heathcote) and Boalians (Augusto Boal)
Applied courses now all do Boal. ‘Forum’ theatre of now was done by TC at whilst at Interplay
Something troubling for TC about the way Boal methods identify a point they want to get to and then finding a way to get to it
Boal has taken over a lot of the applied theatre world
Heathcotians formulated around a smaller group of people at Cockpit, Big Brum and Theatre Powys.

Work experiences with companies as a writer
Hasn’t enjoyed these experiences too much
Doesn’t think Pit Prop liked the play he wrote for them
Different politics going on on within company, sometimes companies commission a play and don’t really know what they want
He enjoyed working at Theatre Centre with BM, but feels the times were against him picking up more work there
Of the group he went in with, Bryony Lavery and Roy Williams did more work there
He taught Roy at Rose Bruford and Darren Rapier (DR)
Later DR invited TC to work with him and they now work together on a project at Guy’s Hospital
New unit to create a professionally produced soap operas (DR has written for Doctors)
TV piece funded by Guys and St Thomas’s charity
Initially doing a 10 minute trailer to help secure more funding
Character storylines are developed with young people in unit
Because of law young people can’t be in it so they work behind cameras.
Young people available always changing and this suits the nature of the soap
First showing on June 17th 2009 at a preview cinema
Hollyoaks director is working with them
Social relations between actors is political
Setting is a fictional railways station
Conceit is that when Eurostar moved from Waterloo it moved to ‘Rivercross’ in Deptford not St Pancras
So passengers disembarking are faced with river and Isle of Dogs rather than Euston Road
It all links TC back to early and life work experiences
When he went to Yorkshire Playhouse when his sister-in-law was running it [Jude Kelly], watching TK acting in something, it took him back to the Interplay project on the Quarry Hill Flats where Yorkshire Playhouse now stands

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