Location: Unfinished Histories Office, Bethnal Green
Interviewer: Susan Croft
Topics List: Sue Timothy
00:00:00 Personal background. Came from very unexceptional working class family who at one time had a post office store near Stratford-upon Avon in Warwickshire although not an RSC-goer. Moved to Bournemouth where started to do theatre with Am. Dram. society. Decided then to be an actor.
00:03.43 Higher education. Went to Aberystwyth University. Studied French and Italian. Met Roland Rees with whom he stayed in contact. As languages student spent a year in St. Etienne where he met John Blatchley (Drama Centre). Following University went to Drama Centre (1965-68) Joined Group 4 in Camden Town. Very influenced by European and American theatre style. Asked to write sketches for shows – that’s how writing started. Got to know Shakespeare through seeing iconic productions of King Lear and A Midsummer Night’s Dream.
00:10.06 Early writing and acting days. Got job at Theatre Vanguard (Sheffield T.I.E) run by Glen Walford. Involved in writing again – cabaret, sketches etc. With students turned a factory into an alternative theatre. Invited by mayor to do a show. This was Continuing Tale of Super Male, his first written show. Translated a late Molière play which was bought by BBC.
Roland Rees gave him a role in Mustapha Matura play at Ambiance Theatre which toured to the Mickery in Amsterdam. Ambiance creative, exciting and fun. Wrote Mary Mary which was about Mary Bell. Surrealistic text. Nancy Meckler at Freehold wanted to do it after a project about Genesis which he scripted scenes for. Mary Mary opened at Cockpit festival. Subsequently went to Royal Court and Mickery.
Lived in Battersea with Glen Walford and Alun Armstrong. Hung around Oval House. Saw lots of theatre. Joined Arts Council Fringe and Experimental Theatre Panel and subsequently representative of this on Drama Panel. Wrote Downers about homeless kids in London. Directed at Bradford University by Pat Barlow.
00:30.50 Exeter. Went to Exeter as one of three Thames TV Dramatists. All this time earning income (not much) by acting, directing, translating, playreading and of course the Thames job.
00:34.01 London. Back to London. Show with Pat Barlow Happy and Glorious in 1976. The Land of Hope and Glory at Theatre Royal, Stratford East. A music hall show and not brilliant. Then The Complete Whole Earth Catalogue which RSC did a reading of at The Warehouse [now Donmar] in Covent Garden but nothing further.
Smiles for Jesus directed by Penny Cherns was done in Exeter and toured. Cakewalk, a music hall show was on at Hampstead Theatre.
Loved rehearsal processes and collective working but self-effacing and didn’t attract work. Got involved with setting up TWU (Theatre Writers’ Union) to promote writer in rehearsal room and collective vision. Similar to wonderfully democratic ACE in early 70s.
00:49.59 Germany. Met this German girl. Things were closing down in UK so went to Germany with her.
Got to know GRIPS Theatre [Berlin] who thought UK not interested in political theatre for kids. Translated GRIPS play Things that Go Bump in the Night about bullying. Sent it to Unicorn who produced it. Done all round England. Director of GRIPS delighted he’d got into UK. The Tricycle did another GRIPS play translated and directed by Roy called Mr Robinson’s Party, about racism.
00:60.37 Success: Stronger Than Superman. Knew GRIPS wanted a play about disabled kids so wrote one. Researched it in London and wrote a funny piece about awkwardness and prejudice of able-bodied when confronted with kid in wheelchair.
In meantime translated Patrick Sűsskind’s The Double Bass for RSC.
1980, Roy gave GRIPS Superman. It opened to 5 star reviews and was sold out for its 3 year run. Done all over Germany (Roy directed it in Hamburg). Bought by German TV. Went world wide. Performed at the Jeanetta Cochrane in London – not a very good production. Play changed attitudes to disability. Production in S. Korea in 2009. Lasted 28 years.
01.14.58 Germany after Superman. By now settled in Germany. Married, had two kids, although is now separated. Lived in Berlin, then Dortmund. Translated all GRIPS plays. Other translated plays done on radio. Just translated, taught drama, moved into documentary films. Got back into writing after meeting Hungarian woman who’d been in Bergen-Belsen. Wrote play about concentration camps and art. Not performed yet. Germans not interested but hope in Poland. Wants to do it in UK.
01.24.01 The present. Still in Germany writing plays. In another creative phase. He’s 70 years old, still being performed and still creative.
01.25.04 Networks in 60s and 70s. Very close to Naftali Yavin. After seeing Freehold, Naftali wanted to work with Roy. Naftali died young. Life tragically cut off. A very warm person, full of vitality, and professional.
01.29.70 German cultural attitudes. In general not much recognition of children’s plays but in Germany great YPT Festival. Fantastic kids shows about issues. Not much interest in Turkish theatre in Germany. But now a great play about racial tensions based on French film. Coming more into mainstream.
01.37.50 Influences. What connected Naftali and Roy was that they came from disciplined, professional area but were not mainstream. Very experimental. TOC [The Other Company] interacted with audience, had direct contact with it. Related to Clive Barker’s work with its influence on internal rehearsal method and theatre games. Tension between theatre reality and social reality.
01.46.00 Summing up. A problematic career. Can’t be pinned down. A weird portfolio of work.