I’m not a great afficionado of the theatre, so I haven’t been able to think of a clever title for this week’s post. In fact when I tried to think of all the times I’ve been to a theatre since I came to London in the 70s I got past the fingers of one hand but didn’t make it to the end of the second. Still, more by luck than judgement I’ve managed to see some good performances – Malcolm McDowell and Beryl Reid in Entertaining Mr Sloane, Jack Shepherd in Michael Kerr’s Dispatches, local hero David Rappaport (and many others) in Ken Campbell’s Illuminatus Trilogy, and one visit to the Royal Court Theatre to see David Edgar’s Mary Barnes, which is chiefly memorable to me for Simon Callow’s performance as a psychiatrist.
But anyway, my inconsequential reminiscences bring us to the Royal Court Theatre and the collection of posters we have in the Chelsea Local Studies picture collection. I’m not attempting any kind of thematic or chronological selection.I’ve picked these particular ones because I’ve heard of the play, or the author, or one of the actors, or (mostly) because I just liked the image.
Caryl Churchill’s Top Girls from the early 1980s featuring several well known names.
This revival of Alfred Jarry’s 1896 absurdist drama has just one name on the poster:
Max Wall the former music hall / variety comedian famous for his iconic physical style of comedy who turned to straight acting in his later years and did many “serious” roles. It also featured Colin Welland, Kenneth Cranham, Robert Powell and Jack Shepherd and was designed by David Hockney.
Somewhat earlier (note the phone number):
An adaptation by J P Donleavy of his own sensational novel. This may not be the original production which starred Richard Harris but the names are famous enough for me. That 1959 version went to Dublin but was closed after three days for “offensiveness”. I’ve read the novel and from this distance in time I can barely grasp what the problem might have been.
A different degree of offensiveness was also a problem in 1972. John Osborne’s career wasn’t going too well. His new play A sense of detachment didn’t altogether help.
His own wife Jill Bennett pulled out from a leading role to be replaced by the diminutive actress Denise Coffey. (In 1972 I would have known her as one of the cast of the pre-Python children’s comedy show Do not adjust your set.). The play was pornographic according to critics and many were outraged by the lines Rachel Kempson had to say – although Kempson herself was deeply committed to the part and dived into the audience to attack two of the most vociferous hecklers. Clever poster, though.
In an earlier age Carry On star Jimy Thompson took the lead in a version of a French farce.
It was adapted by his wife in 1964.
There was some nudity in this 1974 production.
Rosemary Martin spent an hour naked on stage as an artist’s model. Alan Bates, who famously performed nude in Women in Love, kept his clothes on. There was a poster featuring the unclothed Ms Martin which caused a minor scandal on the tube but this version is more decorous.
Another pair of actors who rose to fame in the 1960s were in this 1973 double bill:
Krapp’s last tapes is a solo performance as was Not I, in which Bille Whitelaw, now celebrated as one of the great performers of Beckett’s work delivers her monologue with only her mouth visible.
Tony Richardson directed this version of A Midsummer Night’s Dream in January 1962.
It featured Ronnie Barker, James Bolam, Samantha Eggar, Alfred Lynch, Corin and Lynne Redgrave, Rita Tushingham, David Warner and Nicol Williamson (to name, unfairly, just the ones I’ve heard of.) And the image is pretty striking.
Edward Bond did his own version of a Shakespeare story in 1971.
Quite a violent piece of work by all accounts. Bond also produced another new version of a classic.
It’s a more conventional poster.
A couple of famous names in the last part of a trilogy of absurdist drama in 1962:
Big Wolf (1972) by the German playwright Harald Mueller. I’ve included this one purely because I like the image.
This 1970 comedy by the Brooklyn writer Michael Weller has a provocative title.
The play was an examination of communal living in the counter culture. Weller later changed the title to the far less interesting Moonchildren.
One of my favourites:
Robert Holman’s play is set in north Yorkshire in the 18th century. One of the main characters was a talking monkey, which apparently confused the critics.
I may have demonstrated that I don’t know that much about the theatre. But I do know that these posters are a fascinating aspect of the history of graphic art in the second half of the 20th century.
Was it colourful enough for you? If you enjoyed theses images let me know. There are many more. We’ll be back in black and white next week.
Finally, a bonus image – a poster I scanned before we had the book scanner so the top and bottom are cut off, but it’s still worth seeing.
Sugar and Spice by Nigel Williams (1980) featuring the young Toyah Willcox and just over her shoulder a just as young Caroline Quentin.