Thursday, 28 January 2010

Thirty years of Bedlam



Not much has changed at the Edinburgh University Theatre Company's headquarters since I first stepped inside its deconsecrated auditorium three decades ago this October. There's now a proper box office to the left of the entrance, brightly painted toilets, swisher lighting rig and sound, and the anteroom, plastered with many more posters than when I last saw it, has a cafe serving espresso coffee (no-one in Edinburgh or London, apart from the Italians, seemed to know what espresso was in the early 1980s despite its earlier infiltration).


It touched me, though, of course, to see students doing what students always did, albeit with laptops and mobiles. A drama festival was in full swing; I couldn't stay to see anything as I had to get back to Glasgow for War and Peace, but they were setting up for a play called God's Spies.


I found out to my amazement that the Bedlam turned thirty through the university magazine. And they have a website, too, www.bedlamites.co.uk. Quick flurries of correspondence followed with the friends I made in the first weeks of term and still see: Simon Bell, Mary New (now Amorosino), Jo Dishington (now Clough), Jerry Pratt. It became a heady nostalgiafest and I dug out some old programmes.

Surprising how much I've forgotten about the early days. I slipped in to the freshers' week lunchtime play, Stoppard's Albert's Bridge with one repeated line ('hear, hear, Mr Chairman') and joined the second-week revue, too, along with the Albert, Simon Russell Beale's delightful medic brother Andy. It was terrible. Sorry, David Bannerman, wherever you are - Simon bumped into you recently and you'd been talking about it - but the script of The Brick Programme wasn't funny, and I don't think the bright young sparks in it made it any more so.

I tried to remember the sketches, and only recalled the one where I, as an increasingly irate Weather Forecaster, had a box of soapflakes poured over my unwitting head, making my eyes run and sending me stumbling off into the wings in agony. Could it happen now? Don't know. But the friends united in a common front against the well-meaning director have, in some cases, become so for life through our sharing a flat in second year. Others we still see intermittently, though no sign in person of Adrian Johnston, who swiftly moved into genius mode as accompanist for silent films and has since written countless TV and film scores, getting an Emmy for his work on Amundsen. Might I embarrass him by putting up a picture of us as Mom and Dad, with Matthew Lloyd and Bill Anderson as our 'sons', in a later University Opera production of Weill's Seven Deadly Sins?


Adrian and I used to sit in my room at Pollock Halls listening to Sondheim's Sweeney Todd, and he introduced me to Peter Grimes. Among the other rebellious Brick Programmers, the delightfully Greek looking Steph Crean used to keep a notebook in which she'd write down new words we spouted at her; last heard of working for iD magazine. 'Wee' Jenny Turner's a novelist and, still I believe, Guardian books editor.

So the lunchtimes progressed - usually chucked on in a couple of weeks. What else was I in? Mooched about simulating dole queues and other facts of life then unknown to us in Simon Evans's semi-improvised play without words Taking Your Time. Starred as Professor Taranne when Peter Kravitz and Hannah Maude-Roxby couldn't get the intended new play, The Ghost in the Machine, up and running. Directed all my flatmates in Sophocles' Electra (scantily costumed in a Bedlam with no heating one snowy February Wednesday). Played an oleaginous ship's steward in MacNeice's The Dark Tower.

But the highlight, in a Bridesheady way, for all of us, I think, was the late spring fortnight we spent on the annual musical, Cabaret. Wait for it, I have some photos (and a few more sent by Mair) to prove it. Our Mary, a vicar's daughter with the most infectious laugh ever, was born to play Sally Bowles. One night her holy parents - no, they have a sense of humour - were there, sitting at one of the Adnam's beer barrels in the converted auditorium, to hear her deliver 'Don't tell Mamma'.


Simon was Clifford Bradshaw, entertaining us ever after with parody renditions of that corny juve-lead song 'Why should I wake up?' He was also a splendid Orsino and played quite a few parts in an ambitious Caucasian Chalk Circle. I always thought he could have been a professional actor, ditto flautist (he played The Rite of Spring in the NYO under both Boulez and Rattle), but his ex-actress girlfriend Patricia thinks not.


One who did make it to a high level - and we always thought he would - was Peter Forbes, Herr Schultz and since seen as Malvolio at the Globe and Max Reinhardt's business manager Rudolf "Katie" Kommer in Michael Frayn's sorely underrated Afterlife at the National, among other roles. His Fraulein Schneider, Kerry Richardson, made us weep at every rehearsal and performance with 'What would you do?' That, I think, was star quality. Last saw her presenting an angling programme on TV.


Jerry Pratt played the principal Nazi. He was very nearly beaten up in the street when he had to go round the outside of the theatre to make an entrance wearing a swastika armband; John Stalker, director and now doyen of Scottish theatre, had to bring his considerable presence to bear. And I? I was a humble waiter, spinning trays, messing up the dance sequences with my two left feet and joining with Andy Beale in 'Tomorrow belongs to me' (originally set, of course, in the cabaret).


Actually I think I look surprisingly butch in the middle of the dress-rehearsal melee (please note that some of the ladies, including Gabrielle and Zoe if I remember their names aright, aren't wearing their proper costumes). Despite the slicking, though, the coiffure needed attention and immediately afterwards, in time for the first night, I got my crash helmet hair cut short. I also smoked two cigarettes a day for a couple of weeks only and bought a pair of raspberry coloured corduroys - pace, McCall Smith - as a sign of delayed adolescent rebellion. Though coming out was not on the cards in those days, alas. Happy birthday, Bedlam - sorry I can't be there on Saturday to share it with you.

Stop press (6/2): This has triggered off an amazing amount of e-correspondence, with many old names joining the list: just like Facebook, I'm told, except with real friends present and erstwhile. Among many photos exchanging hands are several too mortifying to post, including one of Andy as a Hitler youth which could end his distinguished career if taken out of context, but I did think I'd add one more which Mary found, as it completes the Cabaret dramatis personae.


Our dazzling MC was one Leonard Webster. Perhaps because he was one of the few echt Scots in the cast and maybe disliked us braying English, he was rather quiet offstage. Knock me down with a fevver if putting 'Leonard Webster actor' into Google didn't bring up this page on his website. Turns out he went on to play the MC again at the Chester Gateway during a life in rep. Anyway, there he is above in 1981 asking for 'a little understanding...if you could see her through my eyes' with the ubiquitous Andy Beale underneath the ape skin.

14 comments:

andy beale said...

David,

what a delight to read. 30 years on and still fresh in our memories. They were seminal times indeed. Was contacted by jerry last night who put me on to your blog. It has been such a pleasure to catch up and reminisce. I would love to meet up, perhaps take everyone to see Simon's show at the national. Am now a consultant in swindon (for last 15 years!) so could do with a visit to the bright lights.

David said...

Andy! Wonderful to hear from you. Let's 'do the Boucicault' en partie.

Actually I was regretting not having found the photo of Leon as MC and you as gorilla, which I was sure I had. But there you are as superior waiter no. 1.

Of course, Simon is not a patch on his brother as an actor...Yrs Iago

Simon Bell said...

Hey David, I finally managed to negotiate the system.

Andy, how the hell are you old friend? We would all love to see you - David, Jo, Jerry and myself are all London based though Jo does spend a lot of time in Scotland.

We would I am sure all love to Simon RB. xxx

David said...

So Andy set a good example.

We would all love to WHAT Simon RB?? No, don't go there.

(see).

Mary said...

This is GRRRRRRR8! Wonderful David. I'm going to see if I have the Andy as a gorilla photo. Wow Andy, how fab to hear from you. It doesn't seem possible that it really was 30 (29) years ago. Somewhere inside this 47 year old body, Sally Bowles is still there. Still have the infectious laugh anyway, much to the children's embarrassment.

andy said...

am now officially excited. Have kept in touch with Steph Crean, Henri patterson-knight and Vicky Taylor so can pass on news of them.
Will definitely arrange something if you lot don't
I am thrilled to hear that you are all alive and kicking!!

gorilla boy 1980

Kath Phillips(nee Smith) said...

from Kath Phillips(nee Smith)
Dear David
I saw your remarks about the yesteryear Bedlam of thirty-odd years ago and I did actually encounter some of the folk you mentioned, though I was arriving as you lot were leaving, so to speak. What happened to that Sam Mendes wunderkind of Bristo Street, Peter Grainger-Taylor? And what became of those thoroughly vindictive and unpleasant harpies/groupies, Melissa James and Julie Morrice? I am now a boring solicitor, specializing in professional negligence and tort, based in Bristol, with a GP husband and five children. The early eighties does seem so long ago. I really adored Roger Savage and Alistair Fowler - they were both brilliant.
Kath Phillips, Bristol
MA Eng&German; LLB Birmingham

David said...

Well, I think most of us were out of Bedlam after first year - thought we were too grown up and looked back on it with a little embarrassment.

But funnily I can fill you in on all those people. PGT is writing a novel, the harpy Julie Morrice is still in touch with Melissa James and is the mother of my godson...But do speak your mind!

And anyway while I still adore Roger Savage, of whom you will find mention on this blog back in the summer, I can't share your views about Alistair Fowler, who for me symbolised the dead hand of academe. He was always sending us to read secondary sources - ie criticism - without really looking at the thing itself.

Helly said...

David,
how wonderful to reminisce. Adored watching you all perform - alas the stage did not beckon me. Marvellous pics - you have some archive!

Amazing to catch up with everyone - have been searching for you all on facebook and twitter to no avail!

David said...

And another one joins the nostalgiafest! Your name is there in capitals, Helly, as stage manager for 'my' production of Electra...

Sorry, don't do Facebook or Twitter. This is as far as I go. xx

kerryar said...

Oh David - what a joy to read this! Fraulein Sneider here - the only one in the cast still (slightly) younger than her character (Peter Forbes was always 'mature' to me!). I too have the Cabaret photos and was going to bring them to the reunion this week but they seem a bit redundant now.

I totally agree about Cabaret being the most memorable highlight of those wonderful years. My abiding memory is of having to do a very quick change in that curtained off 'back-stage' area that was actually a corner of the Bedlam cafe. Sarah Macnee (costumes) wouldn't let me wear a bra as Frau Sneider because she didn't want the character to look pert in the chest department. Much to Frank Deas's delight, who somehow ALWAYS seemed to need to be backstage as I performed my quickchange.

Can't wait to see you at the get together on Thursday.

All love Kerry R xx
PS I was also in Taking Your Time, wearing Hannah M-R's overalls. And I was in the Horror Revue and am delighted to think you believe your revue was worse. I don't agree!

David said...

Kerry, can't wait to see you again either. Thought you might like to know that the last Cabaret I saw was in Vienna - the Fraulein Schneider was in her 80s, and had been with the company for most of her adult life. What she must have lived through.

Mind you, the Sally Bowles turned out to be 50, the only giveaway being the rather strange legs in fishnets...

There was a doc on our favourite musical BBC4 presented by Alan Cumming, which was good if sketchy.

Auf wiedersehen, a bientot...bis Donnerstag.x

Julian G C said...

Great reminder of best show that I saw at the Bedlam.

My memories are of being lunch time convener in my first year. i spent hours the night before typing programmes on an old fashioned sit up and beg type writer and had to make an excruciating speech before each play. I cannot remember any of the plays.

I rember Simon B playing Orsino corpsing every time I said my only line in Twelfth Night "What Ho My Lord".

I am now a sort of low grade actor every time I stand up in court, but with a brief instead of a script.

Loking forward to seeing everyone tomorrow.

David said...

Good to hear from you, Julian, and I gather you're coming tomorrow, so see you then.

But wasn't your line 'Will you go hunt, my Lord?' In which case I remember it better than you do...