Wednesday, 23 February 2011

Sparrows Can't Sing, Portrait of Queenie and The Theatre Workshop


Another celebrated East End destination of the time incorporated into the film was Queenie Watts’ pub. It was a place which seemed constantly abuzz with jazz and blues, often performed by Queenie herself, and other musical entertainments. It’s here that all the characters from Sparrows Can’t Sing gather in the evening and the film reaches its brawling conclusion. In fact, it’s a studio interior rather than the actual location used here, but the set replicates the feel of Watts’ pub well enough, with Queenie and her partner Slim serving behind the arc of the bar opposite the music stage, on which she also sings the blues. There’s a documentary on the Shadows of Progress box set called Portrait of Queenie, made in 1964, which captures the spirit of the pub at this time. It’s only a partly accurate title, since it’s as much about the area in which she and Slim live, work and grew up as it is about her. We also get to see the people who drink and play music in the pub, and get an insight into the working lives of some of the musicians (the trumpeter is a gardener and the pianist supervises apprentices in a metal workshop underneath the railway arches). The pub, which is the central focus of the film, is the Iron Bridge Tavern on East India Dock Road in Poplar. The film begins with two fashionably dressed young women approaching along the roadside pavement, clearly outsiders who are drawn by the buzz around Queenie’s venue. They form convenient audience identification figures as they nervously enter the pub and approach the bar. Their evening is measured out in a slow but steady accumulation of sweet martinis and gin and bitter lemons. A night down the pub forms the basic structural framework of the film, but there are numerous interludes in which Queenie and her husband Slim, always working alongside her behind the bar, wander around Poplar and the Isle of Dogs, the camera eye observing telling details of their surroundings. Slim returns to Poplar High Street and ruminates on the poverty of his childhood, observing with no trace of self-pity that his Italian neighbours were considered well-off because they could afford shoes. Wandering into Sophia Street, where he grew up, he notes that it was known locally as Chopper Street, because a policeman’s head was cut off and disposed of down a drain. ‘Funny, but not many coppers came around after that’, he adds with a chuckle.

Queenie on the Isle of Dogs
The Isle of Dogs was still a busy working dockland environment at this time, a landscape crossed and harboured with cranes and cargo ships, tugboats and barges, canals and swing bridges, and ringed around with high wharfside walls as high as those around a prison. The names of the streets through which Queenie wends her way mark out the distant places with which the docked ships and their cargo form a connection: Tobago Street, Cuba Street, Manilla Street. The multi-racial make up of the area seems a natural consequence of such global confluence, and is observed with unaffected equanimity in the film. Queenie watches as some Indian children play in the street, and Caribbean, Jewish and Italian musicians play in her club. A similarly optimistic and relaxed view is taken in Sparrows Can’t Sing. Charlie initially searches for Maggie in a subdivided building to which he has been misdirected. He finds Sikhs on the ground floor (the boy translates his queries for the father), Africans on the first, with whom he enjoys a friendly bit of joshing and a brief attempt at dancing, and a group of gypsies on the top floor whose music (they seem to be holding some sort of lesson) brings out his watermelon grin to its fullest extent. Such disparate elements feeding into the area make Queenie’s love jazz and blues seem completely in keeping with the spirit of the place. Her pub is a shrine to such music, with photos of Ella and Louis pinned to the wall behind the stage like tutelary icons. She sings a local blues titled ‘It’s Raining on the Isle of Dogs (as indeed it is) as she wanders around the area, as if to point out the universality of the music. She is accompanied by the familiar stabbing chords and off-kilter, Monkish rhythms of Stan Tracey and a band including bassist Malcolm Cecil, who later made a complete musical about turn and formed the pioneering synthesiser duo TONTO’s Expanding Head Band with Robert Margouleff, both of whom worked with Stevie Wonder on his seminal early 70s albums.

Queenie sings the blues
The small collection of books on her bedroom table (and it’s difficult to see when she’d get the time to read) also suggest an eclectic worldview; a mix of the spiritual, cultural and practical which encompasses the Holy Bible, the Encyclopaedia of Sea Practice, James Baldwin’s Another Country and one of Henry Miller’s Tropic novels (both of which could loosely be defined as ‘jazz’ literature), and the Kama Sutra. The music in her pub also covers the aural spectrum of contemporary popular sounds with, in addition to the jazz and blues (and trad jazz was huge at the time, of course), a bit of skiffle, rock and roll and pop, and a spontaneous outburst of barside Caruso crooning prompted by Queenie from an old acquaintance. There’s something of a sound clash towards the latter stages of the evening (although it could all be in the edit), with a Cockney knees up breaking out around the old Joanna in the far corner as someone bashes out a rough and ready Knees Up Mother Brown. The older generation (for this is a pub in which all ages mix) get to sing the good old songs, and Queenie herself provides her rendition of My Old Man, just to show that she can do Marie Lloyd as well as Ella and Billie.

We are building a new world
As with Charlie in Sparrows Can’t Sing, Queenie is shown picking her way through the rubble of the old streets which are being redeveloped, gazing up uncertainly at the high rises which are beginning to loom above the ragged remnants of the terraced rows. There’s one perfectly framed shot which has obviously been carefully set up in which Queenie walks towards the camera and then pauses in the middle distance, forming one element in a composition which includes a row of half-demolished houses, a scraggy, blasted tree and a newly erected block of flats. Queenie went on to be a regular presence on TV and in films, becoming something of a default choice for tough-minded East End character parts. She played the worldly Aunt Emm in Poor Cow, taking in Carol White’s down at heel Joy, and was also in Up The Junction, the other 60s adaptation of a Nell Dunn novel. She made token appearances in Alfie and Half A Sixpence, as if to add a touch of authenticity. But it was on TV that she really became a familiar face, turning up in Sykes, Steptoe and Son, The Goodies, Up Pompeii, Dad’s Army, Doomwatch, Dixon of Dock Green, Yus My Dear (with Arthur Mullard) and, to further connect back to Sparrows Can’t Sing, George and Mildred, alongside Yootha Joyce and Brian Murphy. Queenie eventually had her own moment in the This Is Your Life spotlight, a sure sign that you’ve been enshrined in the public’s affections.

Roy Kinnear - comic ladder antics
Sparrows Can’t Sing is very much an actor’s film, and much of the cast were drawn from the Theatre Workshop’s then current repertory company. Joan Littlewood had wanted to use a Nagra camera, small, portable and adaptable enough to follow the small variances, sudden impulses and spontaneous gestures of the actors’ performances. It sounds like she was aiming for something similar to what John Cassavetes was doing over in America in films such as Shadows and Faces. Cassavetes also used to put on off-Broadway theatrical performances of plays which he’d written in addition to his self-financed films. Littlewood makes no bones in her autobiography about her frustrations with the producer Donald Taylor and the professional camera team that he imposed on her. The ‘well-respected’ cinematographer Max Greene was utterly disdainful of the actors and the story, reading his copy of Sporting Life throughout the dramatised read through Littlewood organised for the benefit of him and his crew, in order to familiarise them with the story and characters. Eventually, both producer and cameraman left, and the picture was swiftly concluded with more sympathetic collaborators, although Taylor still receives primary credit on the titles. Any technical deficiencies are outweighed by the variety of acting styles. This echoed the ethos of the Theatre Workshop, which aimed to incorporate a divergent mix of popular and classical performance traditions into their productions.

Murray Melvin rockin and rollin
The marvellous Murray Melvin was a lynchpin of the Theatre Workshop repertory company at this time (and has since gone on to be its archivist), having appeared in the original production of A Taste of Honey in the role he would go on to play in the film. Here, he gets to show off his singing and dancing talents (as well as a rather natty suit), twisting his way through a rock and roll number in Queenie’s pub with some gusto. Roy Kinnear and Brian Murphy make for a great clownish double act, a couple of mumbling and stumbling featherheads vying with each other to demonstrate who is the more hopeless. Kinnear displays his familiar physical characteristics which were to become so much a part of his comic make up. His nervous shrug, rolling waddle of a walk and the apologetic ‘what’s he done now’ twitch of a half smile that turns the corner of that flatline mouth. His whole being seems to exude worry and hesitant uncertainty. Both he and Brian Murphy have their cumbersome comic props, which render them ripe for slapstick misadventure. Roy Kinnear has his ladder and bucket, the former of which impedes his clumsy drunken return from the pub, and which he unwisely decides to employ whilst still in a dizzy state. Brian Murphy has his expansive birdcage (everything seemed to be bigger and more solid back then). Rather touchingly, he takes this down to the local park, parking it on the bench beside him and introducing its occupants to their sparrow brethren. Murphy narrowly misses crossing paths with Yootha Joyce in the film, and you can’t help but think that this could almost be a glimpse into the youth of George and Mildred Roper, the characters they played in the 70s sitcom, withering in the doldrums of each other’s company. Here, Joyce is full of vitality and cheer, issuing a steady stream of cheeky banter alongside her girl friends.

Brian Murphy - taking the bird for a walk
Avis Bunnage plays Bridgie Gooding as the family matriarch, organising the dithering menfolk and rounding up her errant daughter with a yell from the canal bridge to act as the messenger between Charlie and Maggie. Her loquacious, bustling character gives us a glimpse of what her portrayal of the mother in Shelagh Delaney’s A Taste of Honey might have been like in its opening 1958 run at the Theatre Royal. Dora Bryan is fine in the film, but you can’t help wondering if Avis might have made this maternal monster a little more human. Barbara Ferris, who plays Bridgie and Fred’s daughter Nellie, was one of several young women whom Joan Littlewood found performing in the nearby Winston’s Nightclub. Littlewood liked the fact that they hadn’t been through the conventional theatrical training, and points out in her autobiography that ‘they could sing, dance, ad lib, change clothes in a matter of seconds and, despite the most uncomfortable conditions, light up the scene’. All the sort of things they might be expected to do during the course of a typical Theatre Workshop production, in fact. Ferris never really found a fulfilling long term career as an actress. She was busy in 1963, however, also playing Susan Eliot, the lead female character in Children of the Damned, the sequel to Village of the Damned, which had successfully adapted John Wyndham’s novel The Midwich Cuckoos for the screen. Ferris also replaced Marianne Faithfull as the girl having larks amongst the lads of the Dave Clark Five in John Boorman’s enjoyable slice of swinging sixties satire Catch Me If You Can. It was clearly aimed to cash in on the success of A Hard Days Night, and two actors in Sparrows Can’t Sing provide an anticipatory link with that film, which was released the following year (1964). Victor Spinetti and John Junkin essentially play the same sort of characters as they would do with The Beatles: Spinetti neurotic (although without the mohair jumper here) and Junkin laconically officious.

Gerry Raffles - dropping Maggie off
There were actors from beyond the Theatre Workshop circles. Arthur Mullard appears, pulling up outside the pub with barrels of beer delivered by dray horse-drawn cart. As ever, he basically plays Arthur Mullard, which is all he’s required to do. George Sewell, who plays Bert, had also appeared in Lindsay Anderson’s debut feature This Sporting Life in 1963. This was released at the tail end of the kitchen sink era, when people where beginning to weary of its downbeat realism, and it received lukewarm reviews as a result. Its star, Richard Harris, had also passed through the ranks of the Theatre Workshop. He was involved in the court case brought against the company in 1959, which revolved around the play You Won’t Always Be On Top. This written by a building worker, Henry Chapman, and was set on a building site, complete with cement mixer and a wall which was gradually constructed on stage as the everyday action unfolded. The actors improvised around the written script, building up their characters in the build up to the opening and during the actual run. The Lord Chamberlain, who had taken against the play, or perhaps just the Workshop’s stance in general, used this deviation from the source material to prosecute Harris, Littlewood, Raffles, Chapman and John Bury, the theatre’s licensee, for presenting material unauthorised by the censor. There was a great deal of publicity surrounding the case, and the resultant fines were largely tokenistic. The whole affair played a significant role in bringing this officious and arbitrary form of establishment censorship to an end. Harry H Corbett had been a core member of the Theatre Workshop in the post war years, having joined in 1952 when it was still touring the North. He left in 1955, tired of the constant penury, a couple of years after the company had settled in Stratford. He did maintain his links with Littlewood, however, and returned from time to time, appearing in the 1959 production of James Clancy’s Ned Kelly, and playing Sherlock Holmes (or rather, someone who thinks he’s Holmes) in James Goldman’s They Might Be Giants in 1961. He makes a cameo appearance in Sparrows Can’t Sing (for old time’s sake, maybe) as the fruit and veg seller with his roadside market stall. Look closely and you can spot Joan Littlewood herself, inspecting the wares behind him. Gerry Raffles also appears briefly as the driver of the double-decker car transport lorry who drops Maggie off in the park before heading for Sheffield.

Joan's Book - her autobiography
The Theatre Workshop wanted to bring theatre to the local people, to those ordinary men and women who were outside the usual theatre-going audience, and who would not consider it to be for them. They aimed to do this by producing plays which reflected their experience, or which presented material in a way which directly engaged with them, drawing them in rather than presenting them with a passive spectacle. This was what they attempted with plays such as Sparrers Can’t Sing, A Taste of Honey, Frank Norman’s Fings Ain’t What They Used To Be and A Kayf Up West, You Won’t Always Be On Top and Oh What A Lovely War. The degree to which they succeeded in reaching such an audience is debatable. Harry H Corbett certainly felt that they’d failed to fulfil any such aims. ‘We never appealed to the working class’, he says in Howard Goorney’s The Theatre Workshop Story. ‘All I could ever see were beards and duffle coats every time I peered into the audience. It was the day of the angry young whatever. No way was there a local following, only in the sense of a few eccentrics – Johnny Speight was one – and they were leaving their working-class environment. Never a solid working-class audience in any way’. Still, local eccentrics need a focal point to inspire them, and the theatre provided a training ground for those who might otherwise never have contemplated acting on the stage. The Theatre Workshop actors really reached the desired audience to a massively greater extent with the characters they went on to play in TV sitcoms or soaps: James Booth as Vic Fielding and Avis Bunnage as first Alice Burgess, and then Edie Blundell in Coronation Street; Roy Kinnear in The Dick Emery Show; Brian Murphy and Yootha Joyce in Man About the House and its spin-off George and Mildred; and, of course, Harry H Corbett in Steptoe and Son. Joan Littlewood is very sniffy about the latter’s defining role in her autobiography, an attitude she perhaps extended to all of these defections to the idiot box. ‘Harry C’s face filled the screen’, she remembers. ‘He was talking in some stylised accent and there was a hideous old man with him…Harry, who had given us that incomparable Richard II, and so many glorious moments of theatre; what had driven him to this?’ Perhaps she might have approved of two further Theatre Workshop graduates to the small screen who went on to play central roles at the beginning and (as it then seemed) the end of Doctor Who. Carole Ann Ford played William Hartnell’s Doctor’s ‘granddaughter’ Susan from the very first episode, The Unearthly Child (broadcast in 1963, the same year that Sparrows Can’t Sing was released), through to the final episode of The Dalek Invasion of Earth a year later. Sylvester McCoy took the title role and eventually steered it to a dignified end in Survival, towards the end of 1989. On reflection, she almost certainly wouldn’t.

The Theatre Workshop had its origins in Salford, where a young man called Jimmie Miller, fiercely committed to Communist ideals, set up a street theatre group called the Red Megaphones in 1931. They would perform short and unambiguous political skits for the queues of the unemployed waiting outside the labour exchanges, and later for those taking part in the strikes then widespread in the textile industries. They gradually began to graduate from the streets and develop a more professional approach, a move which was greatly helped by the arrival of Joan Littlewood amongst their ranks in 1934. She’d grown up in Stockwell in South London, and had managed to gain a place at RADA, but disliked the conventional nature of its training and the kind of plays which it favoured. Legend has it (or her autobiography, at any rate) that she walked up to Manchester to find a new direction, her possessions tied up in a bundle like a figure from a fairy tale. This dreamlike impression was furthered when she was awakened one night by the roaring of wild beasts. The following morning, she realised that she’d bedded down just outside Whipsnade Zoo. The Red Megaphones evolved into the Theatre of Action in 1934, and then again into the Theatre of Action in 1936. Miller and Littlewood began to develop a hybrid style which adopted elements of different popular traditions of dance, music hall, agit prop and street entertainments, juxtaposing them to form a new, kaleidoscopic whole. They impulsively got married, but it never seemed a serious commitment. Littlewood comments in her autobiography that, after Miller’s sudden and offhand proposal and an ensuing row, ‘for better or for worse, I gave in’). They remained friends and collaborators after it all fell apart, however, and Littlewood was later to become godmother to Miller’s children, Kirsty and Hamish MacColl. Miller had deserted from the army soon after being called up in 1940, and changed his name to Ewan MacColl in an attempt to deflect any unwanted attention. It worked for a while, but he was finally arrested after the war, although he was soon released and returned to the fold. Littlewood met Gerry Raffles when he joined the company in 1940, and they soon fell for each other. She describes the blossoming of their relationship in a touchingly self-deprecating way in her autobiography: ‘Gerry was nineteen, sexy, a very desirable young man. I was just twenty-eight, plain, hardly what you’d call attractive, moody often, amusing sometimes, but Gerry didn’t see me as I was. He called me beautiful. Perhaps, when he looked at me, I was….Gerry was the most wonderful that ever happened to me – and still is’. They remained devoted to each other until his death in 1975.

The Theatre Union had to pack up and cease activities in 1942 for the duration of the war. When it was all over, the core members re-united to found the Theatre Workshop. MacColl wrote for the company, Littlewood directed and acted, and Raffles became the de facto manager. They toured the theatres, halls and schools and colleges of the North, bringing a mixture of the classics and new, didactic works to whomsoever might turn up (and it was sometimes a pretty meagre audience). Notable amongst the new plays was Uranium 253, which used the hybrid styles developed in the Theatre Union days to tell the story of atomic power and its development and eventual use as a weapon with terrifying destructive potential. The performance involved a variety of performance styles, with dance, comedy, movie parodies, an expressionistic figure of death, and direct addresses to the audience. The play was a big success, communicating what might have been a rather abstract subject in an engaging, entertaining and informative manner. It toured widely, even playing for a week to enthusiastic audiences at Butlins in Filey.

After several years, the strain of constant touring and their permanently penurious condition led the members of the Theatre Workshop to seek a permanent base. Manchester and Glasgow failed to offer any suitable or affordable locations, so in 1953 they moved down South and set up in the dilapidated Victorian semi-wreck of the Theatre Royal in Stratford, a place which had indubitably seen better days. MacColl opposed the move away from the North, where he believed they had begun to build up a good audience, and didn’t join them. Besides, he was now becoming more involved with folk music, hosting, curating and singing in the radio show Ballads and Blues for the BBC, and later opening a club of the same name in London in 1957 (so he did move south after all!). This would turn into the famous Singers Club in 1961 and become the epicentre of the folk revival, with MacColl and his partner Peggy Seeger as its presiding king and queen (although such royal assignations are somewhat contradictory for a movement whose constituents largely espoused left-wing views). MacColl’s series of Radio Ballads, broadcast from the late 50s through to the mid 60s, drew on the Theatre Workshop’s use of a variety of juxtaposed styles and techniques to present portraits of particular groups of people (fishermen, travellers, miners and motorway construction workers) through recorded speech, sound effects, field recordings, narration, and songs old and new.

Murray Melvin in Oh What A Lovely War
The Theatre Workshop struggled for a while, effectively squatting in the theatre building (and swiftly hiding the evidence of their inhabitation whenever any inspectors turned up), but an invitation to play at the International Theatre Festival in Paris in 1955 attracted a good deal of positive critical attention (alongside a certain amount of ‘why are these nobodies being chosen as our representatives’ comments) and heralded the many successes that were to follow. Several of these led to West End transfers, which helped a great deal with the finances, although some suggested that they marked a sell out to the conventional theatre to which the Workshop had sought to provide an alternative. Brendan Behan found something of an artistic home at the Theatre Royal (and a literal home for a while with Littlewood and Raffles), with his plays The Quare Fellow and The Hostage being staged there. There was also the 1958 premiere of A Taste of Honey by the young first time playwright Shelagh Delaney, Sparrers Can’t Sing, of course, William Saroyan’s 1960 piece of whimsy Sam, The Highest Jumper Of Them All, a quirky vehicle for Murray Melvin, and the thinly veiled satire on the Ronan Point disaster The Projector in 1970. Perhaps the culmination of the Workshop’s performance style and philosophy was Oh What A Lovely War from 1963, which juxtaposed songs from the First World War with a pierrot show, comic routines, realistic scenes of life in the trenches and music hall numbers with a constantly changing backdrop of slides showing photographs from the war, with ‘rolling’ news statistics flashed alongside.

Cedric Price's plans for the Fun Palace
Joan Littlewood’s involvement in the theatre diminished in the late 60s and early 70s as she became involved in a new project, a vision for a future in which leisure time would expand as the world became increasingly technologised (what happened to that!). She envisaged what came to be known as the Fun Palace, a flexible structure which was to be a site for serious leisure, or work-play, ‘a university of the streets…a foretaste of the pleasures of the future’. It was a mini model utopia, a proposal for the manner in which society at large might refashion itself and its priorities. She developed the idea with architect Cedric Price, and they came up with an open plan area which encouraged an informal atmosphere. There would be no doors or fixed entry points, and the different areas would not be segregated. Boundaries would be permeable, with ‘charged static-vapour zones, optical barriers, warm-air curtains and fog-dispersal plant’ to be used, according to Price’s May 1964 New Scientist article. There would be acting areas (for participation or viewing), music areas with instruments and listening posts, a construction area in which various crafts could be learnt and practised, a science playground, a fun arcade, remote-viewing screens linked to various locations in the city (or beyond). If it all got a bit too much, there was a quiet zone, which sounds not unlike Brian Eno’s idea of a Civic Recovery Centre demonstrated at the 2000 Sonic Boom sound art exhibition in the Hayward Gallery on London’s South Bank. The whole thing would be, by its nature (and philosophy) impermanent and subject to periodic rearrangements. It would be overarched with an all-encompassing gantry framework, with attendant cranes for shifting the various modules and components, and the encompassed space would be filled and crossed by inflatable enclosures, ramps, moving walkways, catwalks and radial escalators. Despite support and patronage from the likes of Yehudi Menuhin and Buckminster Fuller (who maybe saw the potential to get a dome in their somewhere) and vague encouraging noises from some local councils, it was destined to remain nothing more than a plan on paper. Echoes of some of its ideas can be felt in places like the Container City (an artistic and educational enclave which uses recycled shipping containers as living and working ‘units’) on Trinity Buoy Wharf by the Thames (and symbolically opposite the Millenium Dome or O2 Arena as it has now become); and in the modular inflatable maze of the Colourscape structure which sprouts up on Clapham Common and other sites from time to time, and which hosts musicians in its central chamber (the sound distributed around the surrounding colour saturated corridors).

Joan amongst the rubble
In the 1970s, the local council began to ‘redevelop’ the area around Angel Lane in which the Theatre Royal stood. Zones of waste ground filled with mounds of weed-covered rubble began to proliferate, the wreckage of half-carried out demolition. Joan Littlewood and Gerry Raffles began to organise clearance parties, reclaiming the land like modern ‘leisure time’ Diggers. The spaces thus cleared were asphalted over with the help of sympathetic local firms and patterned with coloured squares, becoming playgrounds and open air theatres of a sort. Activities were arranged which embodied the idea of serious leisure which had been at the heart of the Fun Palace project, and the Theatre Royal was incorporated into this new self-governed local zone, with teenagers invited to organise their own Friday night dances. Jimmie Winston, the keyboard player in the early incarnation of the Small Faces, became an enthusiastic supporter and, according to Joan Littlewood’s autobiography, ‘involved himself in everything, a frontiersman in the bad lands’. It all climaxed in an extravagant Easter Fair organised by the local children in 1974, which boasted a wide variety of stalls and booths, with a maypole at the centre and even a small zoo. Littlewood remembers that the latter included ‘pigeons, and chickens, two donkeys, three monkeys, a goat, a mynah bird and a tortoise; and Jimmie Winston brought a lion!’ The Who came along and played and donated some money, and the whole site became known as the ‘Invisible Fun Palace’, the ideal without the physical structure. Joan and Gerry had brought theatre and pageantry to the local people at last. It was the culmination their involvement with the people of Stratford. When Gerry Raffles died suddenly and unexpectedly a year later, Joan Littlewood was left utterly desolate, and left England to go and live in France shortly thereafter. Raffles is memorialised by a Square which is named after him, just south of Angel Lane and adjacent to a new arts centre, a testament to his efforts to fight for the spirit of the place and the people who inhabited it.

Across the road from Gerry Raffles Square is Stratford Station, situated on the borderlands of the massive new Olympic development site. This is currently the site for Matt Stokes’ film installation The Stratford Gaff: A Serio-Comick-Bombastick-Operatick Interlude. This series of recorded performances seeks to conjure up the spirit of ‘penny gaffs’, ad hoc entertainments common in the Victorian era that used whatever spaces might be temporarily available. Stokes met up with Murray Melvin, who now voluntarily devotes a good deal of his time to acting as the Theatre Workshop’s archivist. The variety of performers and the range of artistic styles represented in Stokes’ film is an appropriate remembrance of the Workshop’s collision of forms. A Grime MC raps alongside some acrobatic cheerleaders, a Punjabi pop singer, a female impersonator, a magician, a beatboxer and a group of Romany musicians. And then there’s Melvin himself, singing When This Lousy War Is Over from Oh What A Lovely War. In his white silk pierrot costume, he stands out against the backdrop darkness like a ghost, a spectral echo of the Workshop’s illustrious past which has drifted across from the theatre opposite.

1 comment:

Tony (aka Pismotality) said...

An exemplary pair of posts: detailed, informative and readable. I've linked to them in the context of my own review of Sparrows. You might perhaps be interested in my blog entries about Alan Klein and What a Crazy World, a Theatre Workshop musical then a film: