Rough Theatre 1974-1978
Heathcote Williams' review of 'Rough Theatre Plays'
International Times (it) Vol 4 Issue 2. 1978
"ROUGH THEATRE PLAYS"
(Published by Rough Theatre and distributed by Open Head Press, 2 Blenheim Crescent, London Wll, 95p.)
"PLUNGE the anarchic spanner of experience into the pious works of theory."
Rough Theatre is a street theatre group from the Ladbroke Archipelago which specialises in low comedy, political satire, ham oratory and spontaneous busking. Their gurus are the Marx Brothers ("Je suis Marxiste, ten- dance Groucho"), Hancock, Joe Orton, the Music Hall, and Brecht, and they perform ("for your amusement, amazement, titillation, diversion and subversion") in the pubs, streets, gutters and community centres of the Corrugated Iron Belt.
The subsidiary rights to some well-known slogans, such as "Corrugated Iron is the Character Armour of the Council," which first appeared in their plays, have been bought up by local graffiti artists, as well as being executed by themselves. Tony Allen, a seditious Struwelpeter and co-author of all the plays, is responsible for "I always thought Home was an ex-Prime Minister until I discovered squatting," which appears in fluorescent green paint along Great Western Road. The word is about that he was arrested halfway through, immediately after he'd got to "ex-" and when charged with criminal damage and asked by the beak what the rest of the slogan was to be, declared solemnly: "I always thought Home was an ex . . . tremely nice place until my wife left me and the parrot, died." The magistrate gave him an absolute discharge, either through sympathy with the author's meretricious predicament or perhaps because he was a fan of Rough Theatre and perceived that the incident was in its best traditions.
There are four plays in this volume: co-authored by Tony Allen and John Miles, with acknowledgements to various clowns, lay-abouts and hecklers who've contributed to their growth. Their humour grows out of a kind of ascetic debauchery. Uppity sods whose language is rich as Croesus. Arrogant and witty doleniks, dandies of urban despair. Someone came to one of their performances once with no money, and was told by one of the group: "That is like bringing no coal to nowhere near Newcastle." Of course he was allowed in for free.
The first play "Dwelling Unit Sweet Dwelling Unit" is an extended poke at the dupes of the system and the work ethic and concerns a council worker who smashes up his own home because it says so on the docket. "Squat Now While Stocks Last" is a street pantomime much performed at squatters' benefits and anti-Criminal Trespass Bill demos (notably in Trafalgar Square where they stunned police opposition to their performance by the sheer volume and the crowd's support of them). It's a merry saga which spawned one of their theme songs (to the tune of "Any Old Iron"):
Corrugated Iron, corrugated iron,
brand new corrugated iron,
yer house looks neat
talk about a treat,
corrugated iron from
the chimney to the street.
No water, no gas
and the mains are smashed
Can't even have a fire on
and the whole of the street
is one long sheet of
"The Heart of a Patriot," premiered at the Charles Pig Dog Club in Chippenham Road concerns two Portobello hustlers who are infected with a mixture of odious opportunism and larky nihilism, and who form the Silly Old Bastards Liberation Front (whose anthem is: "Let's drink to the property developers/Let's have three cheers for the Police/A round of applause for the government/and now a whip round for the rich"). Their motives are to extract money from right-wing loons anxious to "oot out the wreckers, commies and perverts - the rotten fruit who have held power for too long." They're a couple of meta-fascistic spivs who coin in the spondulicks by promoting unspeakable images of a New Britain: "a vast oil-slick of prosperity, humming with electro-bureaucratic vitality."
Included in the piece is the excellent Sex Lecture, often performed as a short play in its own right, in which two plastic-dolls, (supplied by the Ministry of Environment) are the props for a scintillating display of salacious sexual cynicism.
"Free Milk and Orange Juice" is possibly their miss or master-piece. Loosely based on a true-life drama from the annals of the Ruff Tuff Creem Puff Estate Agency for squatters, it revolves around a naive lump-worker from Sheffield: Bunny (juicily played by Stuart Golland), who is down in London for the "free love and squatting", and anxious to get his greasy hands on "the Revolooshon." He's mercilessly taken up by Ormskirk Arthur and Cyril Sleazby, the two Portobello hustlers from "Heart of a Patriot" ("Welcome to what's left on North Ken") who introduce him to Red Grace (immaculately played by Margaret Ford). She's a repellant devotee of Marxist-Leninist misery: a kind of methedrine Redgrave crushing everything in her path - a cross-breed between Rita Webb and Catherine de Medici: "PROLETARIAN STRUGGLE! PROLETARIAN STRUGGLE! Thousands of old people killed last winter by the Wilson government. Come on you bastards, buy a paper or I'll wrap it round your heads. Proletarian Struggle! weekly paper of the Multinational Socialists. You stupid bourgeois bastards, buy a fucking paper or I'll have you all shot. All out on the 26th - reject Labour's betrayal of the working class (sighs). Fuck me, why didn't I stay at home. I dunno, p'raps I could play on their sexism a bit'. . . Aye, aye, dearie, fancy a bit of a struggle? . . . An' sod you an' all mate! Blimey, it's not as though I'm that old and wasted. All out on the 26th! If some-bastard doesn't buy a paper in the next five minutes I'm pissing off home and they can stuff their vanguard right up their factional split."
When Red Grace is left a house that Bunny is squatting in, atavism spatters her revolutionary shibboleths all over the candlewick bedspreads. "Look, twenty quid to get him out." "Won't any of your political associates lend a hand?" "Oh, leave it out. You two are the only reactionaries I know."
They all become so consumed with these and other farcical vagaries that when the revolution really happens they've missed it and are forced to watch it out of the window:
BUNNY: Hey, what's that noise?
ARTHUR: Perhaps they're demolishing the street.
SLEAZBY: Nah, not again.
BUNNY (head out of the window): Eh up - it's the revolution. Everything'll work out fine now. There's barricades at the end of the street. Pure Kropot- kin! Let's get out there.
ARTHUR: Quick, Sleazby, have a look.
SLEAZBY: Leave it out, I might get my head blown off.
GRACE: Gawd! - it would happen when I'm shouting me mouth off!
BUNNY: Well, come on then - what are we hanging about for? Let's get out there. Oh, I'm glad I came to London. This'll be something to write home about.
ARTHUR: No, it'll be happening everywhere: Chipping Norton, Sunderland, Helsinki.
GRACE: Right - better get organised. You were in Spain, weren't you Arthur?
ARTHUR: Well, I threw the odd brick at George Orwell.
GRACE: Well, are you with us or not?
ARTHUR: Just for the first 10 minutes - see how it goes.
SLEAZBY: Yeah, come on Arf, be a bit of a laugh.
BUNNY: Eh up - they're fuckin' in the streets.
GRACE:.Bloody hell - it's" got out of hand already.
BUNNY: Come on Grace, just this once. (He pulls Grace by the arm but she pulls him off.)
ARTHUR: Yes, go on - enjoy yourselves. We'll all be in a tower-block tomorrow.
SLEAZBY: Arf. I'm a bit worried about all this free love and that.
ARTHUR: It's all right Sleazby - you can mime on a corpse. No one'll notice.
SLEAZBY: Oh, I wish it had happened tomorrow.
GRACE: Right then, Cyril - you're on the roof, Arthur - cover the front door. And I must get a leaflet out.
BUNNY: Eeeh, it's tough out there.
GRACE: What's going on?
BUNNY: There was an anarchist and a trotskyist still fighting as they was bundled into t'Black Maria.
GRACE: So, what's happening now?
BUNNY: Well, the anarchists are lined up on one side of the road chanting "We are the ice-picks."
ARTHUR & SLEAZBY (chanting): We are the ice-picks.
BUNNY: . . . And the trotskyists are on the other side shouting - "Capitalism, out."
BUNNY & GRACE (shouting): Socialism, in.
ARTHUR: That's a bit trite.
BUNNY: Aye, but they're engaged with paratroopers at the same time.
SLEAZBY: Here, Arf, what are we? Paratroopers or trotskyites?
ARTHUR: Parasites, Sleazby.
This gang of indigent roughnecks is currently preparing a new extremity from their squatted hovel off the Harrow 'Road to be entitled "The Missionary Position" which rumour has it exorbitantly parallels the themes of men and women, social workers and the under-privileged, and England and Ireland.
This volume (which is most modestly priced at about the same cost as a tin of vedgie pet food from Ceres) forms an excellent primer for anyone fortunate enough to catch what will doubtless be another hilarious and rankly nefarious event.