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Recording the History of Alternative Theatre in Britain (1968-88) through oral history interviews and the collecting of archive material
March 2017 Newsletter
Unfinished Histories News
- Unrehearsed Readings
- Unfinished Histories Update

- New York talk

Enquiries, Campaigns and Symposia
-  Working class access to the performing arts.
- The Act for Change
-  Save Lyn Gardner's blog
-  Brexit the Stage: What Next for British Theatre and Europe?

Information wanted
: Trade Union-related plays

Productions and Events
- The Hearing Trumpet
- Visible Difference, Roundelay

- Bright Young Tings: Black Theatre in London 1979 – 1982
- Norma Cohen Shows
- ASSITEJ World Day of Theatre for Children
- Performance, Magazine Online Archive Launch Events

- Cosmic Trigger Play

- Chris Johnston
- Tony Gouveia

Books Received

Unfinished Histories News

Unfinished Histories Unrehearsed Readings
We had a very successful reading of The Nine Days and Saltley Gates by Jonathan Chadwick and John Hoyland last month, the third such reading held at the Arcola Theatre since last autumn. Unfortunately the Arcola cannot manage to find us space on a regular basis any more. If you know of an easily accessible space, preferably East or Central London, where we could meet once a month - on the third Tuesday evening to explore plays from the alternative theatre movement, please contact Unfinished Histories. It could be a room above a pub where we could meet in return for buying drinks or another space that was free or very cheap, and should accommodate around 20 people at least. Events are free and open to all, up to capacity - bookable by Eventbrite.

Unfinished Histories Update
That apart, UH is getting ready for a period of consolidation and reflection, looking at how best to move forward in the current funding climate. We are concentrating on trying to get up to date with the backlog of interview pages (Interviews made since 2015). Details of those interviewed pre 2015 can be found by using our Interviews/Interviewees drop down on our homepage, courtesy especially of loads of hard work by Jessica and by David Cleall. We're also working to complete the catalogues of the UH Collections at Bishopsgate Institute and have added many new scripts, posters and audio-video material, as well as Special Collections. (If you have material you would like to add, please get in touch) We'll announce here when they are publicly accessible. Other than that, energies are going into two books, one on Inter-Action and one on the UH project in general. We hope, subject to finding a space, to keep the Readings programme going and will be having some fundraising events later in the year. There will probably be fewer Newsletters and in the meanwhile enquiries may take longer to answer. At present we survive on donations and work on a voluntary basis, so if you can afford to support our work with some funds, we would be very grateful: Donations.  

New York talk

Sheila Allen and Victor Spinetti in the 1969 production of
Vagina Rex and the Gas Oven at the Drury Lane Arts Lab.
Photo: Peter Smith

We are very pleased to let you know that Susan is going to New York at the end of the month and will be doing a talk on 3rd April at New School, Greenwich Village on 'Radical Voices, Then and Now' for the programme On Her Shoulders, with extracts read from Jane Arden's Vagina Rex and the Gas Oven, Monstrous Regiment's Scum and Gay Sweatshop's Care and Control. Please tell any US friends. More details here.  

Enquiries, Campaigns and Symposia

Working class access to the performing arts 
Gloria De Piero MP and Tracy Brabin MP have been asked by Tom Watson, Labour’s Shadow Culture, Media and Sport Secretary, to lead an inquiry into working class access to the performing arts. The inquiry will look into the under-representation of working class men and women in the performing arts, with the first stage of the inquiry looking primarily at film, TV, theatre and visual arts. The inquiry will investigate access to ‘on-screen’ and ‘on stage’ roles as well as access to off-screen and backstage roles, including writers, technicians, producers, directors, designers and more. The inquiry is looking for written submissions about the problems and solutions to current lack of access and we are particularly interested in anyone with academic experience in this field.
Submissions can be made here and they are very happy to accept submissions beyond the bounds of these questions. The deadline for submissions is end of March 2017. If you have any questions or would like to talk further about the inquiry please do get in contact with Sarah Coombes in

The Act for Change campaign
Meanwhile The Act for Change project last year launched its major campaign to encourage greater diversity in training for the industry in drama schools. Find out more about this and other initiatives here

Save Lyn Gardner's blog
Lyn Gardner's important blog on theatre, which tends to focus on smaller-scale, experimental and alternative theatre, is under threat. Please go here for further information and sign the petition to save it, plus tell your friends.

Brexit the Stage: What Next for British Theatre and Europe?
Saturday 22 April 2017, Lydia and Manfred Gorvy Lecture Theatre, Victoria and Albert Museum
On 23 June 2016 the UK voted to leave the EU. This symposium will explore what Brexit means for the theatre industry at home and abroad.  Bringing together performance practitioners, academics and policy makers who work in and between British and European stages, this day aims to provoke discussion around the following questions:
  • How can the current moment benefit from historical perspectives on Europe, theatre and crisis?
  • What responsibilities do theatre and culture have post-Brexit: what can we do next?
  • What conditions do we need in order to continue to foster greater internationalism in our practice and research post-Brexit?
As the UK enters unchartered territory, this event aims to contribute creatively and productively to conversations about the relationship between Britain and Europe, theatre and society.  
Confirmed speakers include:
Christopher Balme, Leverhulme Visiting Professor, Royal Central School of Speech and Drama
Peter Boenisch, Professor of European Theatre, University of Kent
Professor Maria Delgado, Head of Research, Royal Central School of Speech and Drama
Ramin Gray, Artistic Director, Actors Touring Company 
Natalia Kaliada, Belarus Free Theatre
Joe Murphy and Joe Robertson, Good Chance Theatre
Miguel Oyarzun, Director, BE Festival
Tim Supple, Artistic Director, Dash Arts

Information wanted

Trade Union-related plays
Susan is putting together a Bibliography of Trade Union-related plays for an anthology on that subject. Plays on the struggle to unionise, strikes, workers’ rights generally, the inclusion of women and minorities within unions and their policies. There were lots of plays on these issues in the alternative theatre movement of the 1970s and 80s, but she is also interested in earlier and more recent work and more mainstream work, and amateur plays. If you have any relevant material please reply to Susan giving publication details or for unpublished work, ideally, a location of a manuscript but substantiated reference to productions of unpublished plays where no manuscript has (yet) been discovered would also be good to include.  

Productions and Events

Dirty Market Theatre present their latest show The Hearing Trumpet, a new site-specific piece based on the story by the major surrealist artist and writer Leonora Carrington in the year that would have been her 100th birthday. Staged at Theatre Deli's, THE OLD LIBRARY, 39 Wells Way, London SE5 8PX the show, the outcome of three years work, runs from 4th to 29th April and includes 'live music, ancient monsters, disturbing animation, gods, psychoanalysts, the holy Grail and a group of revolutionary old ladies and deals with the vulnerable finding their voice and finding enough strength in the collective to rebel'. Book here  Preview here

There's still  - just - time to catch Visible Difference's wonderful 4 star reviews show Roundelay at Southwark Playhouse, celebrating older people, older women especially and sexuality: it runs till 18th March

The Missing Passenger is a new exhibition trail by Geraldine Pilgrim Performance Company, commissioned by the National Railway Museum. Free, it runs 23rd March until  3 September.  See here for more on Gerry Pilgrim's work and her earlier company Hesitate and Demonstrate
Bright Young Tings: Black Theatre in London 1979 – 1982

Foco Novo in Tunde Ikoli's Sink or Swim (1982)Bright Young Tings, an exhibition of photographs from the National Theatre Archive’s Michael Mayhew Collection, a rare snapshot of the work developed by black theatre practitioners between 1979 and 1982. Michael Mayhew was the NT’s Art Director (from 1976 to 2009) when he was first asked by Charlie Hanson to take publicity photographs of the newly established Black Theatre Cooperative. Shot in 35mm black-and-white film on a Nikon EL2 camera, Mayhew’s tightly framed images capture the emergence of the Black Theatre Co-operative and a spirit of hope in its cast and company members. Mayhew went on to shoot more images of theatre productions and rehearsals with Foco Novo and Temba Theatre, leaving a legacy of over 1000 newly digitised photographs at the NT Archive. Together with a new artwork inspired by it, by Cherelle Sappleton, the exhibition runs at the Lyttelton Lounge at the National Theatre, 23 February – 15 April
There are a series of linked events:

In Context – GLC Story, Black Feminist Theatre 1981 – 1986
Saturday 1 April, 2–5pm, Cottesloe Room, £25/£20/£7.50
On Screen – Tunde’s Film (dir. Tunde Ikoli and Maggie Pinhorn, 1973, 49 mins)
Saturday 1 April, 6–7.30pm, Cottesloe Room, £5/£3
In Context – Black Woman Time
Saturday 11 March, 2–5pm, Cottesloe Room, £25/£20/£7.50
Stage Photographers
Saturday 4 March, 6–7pm, Cottesloe Room, £6/£5

Norma Cohen Shows
A reminder (see last newsletter) that the 'abrasively funny' Two Sisters by Gail Louw, following an acclaimed LA run & sell out shows at Yvonne Arnaud Theatre, Guildford, Rialto Theatre, Brighton, Uppingham Theatre, Rutland & Epsom Playhouse, plays UPSTAIRS AT THE GATEHOUSE, Highgate Village, N6; Tues 21st- Thurs 23rd March 7.30pm; £16, concs £14; Box Office: 020 8340 3488 featuring our Interviewee Norma Cohen.
Meanwhile Norma's own show as writer Gone for a Burton will receive a rehearsed reading at JW3 on 4TH APRIL, 19:30, £5: JW3, 341-351 Finchley Road, London NW3 6ET  Box Office: 020 7433 8988  Set 'in the backwaters of 1956 Liverpool, irascible tailor Label Levanksy battles with his old sparring partner from the stetl, Moyshie Oshinsky, when he opens a Burton’s menswear chain store across the road, threatening Label with bankruptcy. It draws on her Russian, Jewish, Communist, Liverpudlian heritage.

ASSITEJ World Day of Theatre for Children
March 20th is ASSITEJ World Day of Theatre for Children and is celebrated worldwide through the campaign 'Take a Child to the Theatre'. The global campaign #takeachildtothetheatre advocates for the cultural entitlement of children to have access to spaces for creative play, performance, theatre and expression.  See here for a message from the ASSITEJ President Yvette Hardie from South Africa.

Performance Magazine Online Archive Launch Events

They are hosting two launch events, in Hull as part of ReROOTed Festival and at the British Library in London which will include discussions, performances and film screenings.

Hull Launch Event at ReROOTed Festival, Humber Street Gallery
Friday 24, 12.30pm & Saturday 25 March, 2.30pm

London Launch Event at British Library
Thursday 27 April, 7.00pm

Between 1979-1992 Performance  Magazine documented an extraordinary period in the development of art in the UK. LADA, the Live Art Development Agency, is working with the original editor, Rob La Frenais, on a new online archive of the magazine, a film by Hugo Glendinning about its history and legacy, and commissioned works by Anne Bean, Hester Reeves and Nahum Mantra which will respond to and re-contextualise the magazine for the 21st Century.

Cosmic Trigger Play
Cosmic Trigger Play is the back story to  the legendary Illuminatus! featuring the extraordinary life and times of its co-author, Robert Anton Wilson, and the unstoppable force that was the equally legendary Ken Campbell. The script by Daisy Eris Campbell (Ken’s daughter) is based on Wilson’s book that inspired a generation. T'his play changes lives!'  Following earlier runs in London and Liverpool in 2014 it is being produced by  at the Cockpit in May 2017. See here for more information and to book

We are very sorry to announce the deaths of two key contributors to theatre with young people / applied theatre:

Chris Johnston

Chris died of pancreatic cancer on Monday 23 January 2017, aged 65.
He was a writer, performer, director, teacher, and workshop facilitator who championed work in community-based theatre and improvisation. His work with Insight Arts Trust (1988-98) and then Rideout (1999-2016) pioneered a range of theatre and arts-based strategies for working with prisoners and those on probation. His experiments with ensemble work were realised in two companies, ESP and Fluxx. Particularly with Fluxx he developed Citizen Theatre - improvised performances that explored issues of concern to local communities. A further company, Livestock, was established in Brighton more recently with a focus on arts and education.
He was a visiting lecturer at the University of Warwick between 1998 and 2003, and between 2003 and 2006 he was an AHRC Fellow in Creative & Performing Arts. He was awarded a Butler Trust Award in 2005 for his work in the Prison Service and made a Companion of LIPA in 2011. He was an active member of the National Alliance for Arts in Criminal Justice.  His writings for Nick Hern Books included House of Games (1998), The Improvisation Game (2006) and Drama Games for Those Who Like to Say No (2010). He also curated, with Rideout, a series of online conversations called The Argument Room on the arts and social justice, including three in conjunction with Unfinished Histories in 2013.
My own connection with Chris Johnston came through the publication he started in 1986 The Plot, the newspaper on alternative theatre. It may have only lasted for five issues but it was not for want of Chris's energy, hard work and commitment and, for a young aspiring writer like myself, he was both highly encouraging and helpfully tough in his searching criticisms, with a fierce intellect, a dry wit and great humanity. In later years he was someone whose name often cropped up in new contexts where I would wonder 'Is that the same Chris?' doing some other new and vital theatre work with a socially-excluded group. It always was. (Susan Croft)

It is planned to hold a celebration of his life and work later this year, if possible to coincide with the publication of his latest book Disobedient Theatre. For further details please email: 
Unfinished Histories plan to set up a web page for him and would be glad to hear from anyone who has memories of him at

Tony Gouveia

At the time of his death in February, Tony Gouveia was Associate Director at Immediate Theatre, the vital Hackney-based company working on estates to create inclusive accessible theatre with communities generally excluded from the arts by cost and cultural barriers and with young people, dealing with complex issues in their lives, or with disabilities.  He joined Immediate in 2008 following a career that started in the West End in the cast of Jesus Christ Superstar. He also performed in  Mass Carib and in Kwame Dawes' One Love for Talawa in 2001 among others. But most of his career was devoted to working with young people in the community and in Theatre-In-Education. His work encompassed a wealth of key companies across the sector, from the Bubble youth theatre, to Perspectives, from Nottingham-based Roundabout to Theatre Centre  to Half Moon YPT where he directed the 1990 community play After the Storm, and was one of the founders of L'Ouverture theatre company.

Unfinished Histories will set up a web page for Tony and would be glad to hear from anyone who has memories of him at  If you would like details of a future memorial please contact Immediate Theatre

Books Received
Where possible we try to review books of relevance to the field of alternative theatre and are always glad to receive review copies and to list new resources available, though we may not always be able to review them immediately. We are gradually adding earlier reviews to the Publications page where you can find material on subjects from British South Asian Theatres to Northwest Spanner to The Magdalena Project.
Recent books we hope to review at some point include:
Crashing Culture 1954-2016 Artist Notebook by  Ken Turner (Imaginative Eye and Eye Projects, 2016)
Nobody Knows But Everybody Remembers by Mark Long (People Show 2016)
Singing the Changes: Songs by Dave Rogers for Banner Theatre ed. Doug Nicholls (Bread Books, 2005)

Best wishes from 

Dr Susan Croft, Director 
Jessica Higgs, Associate Director

Patrons: Adjoa Andoh, Baroness Christine Crawley, Stephen Daldry, Tony Elliott, Kwame Kwei-Armah, Pratibha Parmar, Sir Tony Robinson, Dame Harriet Walter

Board: Danny Braverman, Tony Coult, Susan Croft,  Olusola Oyeleye,  Sue Timothy

Company no: 3950781 + Charity no: 1149431
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