Theatre in Wales

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Summer Book Review- Mike Bradwell

Theatre Director Book

Mike Bradwell , Nick Hern Books , August 4, 2011

The Bush Theatre in Shepherds Bush, London is currently putting online its badge of pride. With the support of the Jerwood Foundation the productions of two hundred and fifty plus playwrights are being publicly archived. One Artistic Director from the theatre has already put his experiences into print. Dominic Dromgoole in “the Full Room” in 2000 chose the form of crisp, incisive portraits of one hundred and twelve dramatists.

Mike Bradwell has opted for autobiography, or rather a partial one. “This book tells the tale of the two theatre companies I have run” he writes. “Hull Truck from 1971 to 1982 and the Bush Theatre from 1996 to 2007.” The private life, if any, is hardly touched on but as a theatre narrative “The Reluctant Escapologist” is as riotous, exuberant and rambunctious as they come.

In his very first paragraph Bradwell records hearing “Interstellar Overdrive” and “See Emily Play”. This is Pink Floyd live, in their real incarnation as headed by Sid Barrett. It is a truism of the nineteen-sixties that many of the rainbow memories they left behind were in fact made in the climate of the grey nineteen-seventies. The spirit of the book, and it would seem the life as well, is soaked in the sixties.

Bradwell is there in 1966 in Sheffield City Hall to hear Dylan's mould-breaking electric tour. He is among the eighty thousand at the Grosvenor Square anti-Vietnam rally where an elderly woman spits at him and tells him to get his “f***ing hair cut.” He says that he smashes the window of a police van with his fist.

While crossing Charing Cross Road he bumps into a couple who turn out to be John and Yoko. Ken Kesey takes over the Albert Hall for a Happening. Bradwell maps out the beginning of “bagism” from “Le Petit Prince”. His is an intoxicating account of an era- “It certainly beat doing panto in Scunthorpe.”

Charles Marowitz presents Hamlet as a tearful clown swinging on a rope. “I despise Hamlet” he says “..a slob, a talker, an analyser.” The book’s editor has in truth given the author a lot of leeway. Asides on Woodstock, the Chicago Eight and a history of the Living Theatre are not strictly relevant to the narrative. The effect of these formative years lives on. Twenty-five years later, Gary Owen’s “The Drowned World” gets a mention only because its last day coincides with the great Hyde Park rally against Iraq.

Before the tumultuous sixties there is the childhood. Guided by his farmer father he sees Tony Hancock, George Formby, Jimmy Clitheroe live on stage. A shy, terrified nineteen-year old, he arrives at East 15 Acting School where an early “inhibition-busting” exercise is termed “The Wanking Donkey.” As an acting exercise what the students hear is what they have to do.

Reviewed by: Adam Somerset

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