A smile and a song

Rough Theatre
Central Piazza, Covent Garden
Irving Wardle

Rough Theatre is a street Theatre group from the heart of West London’s corrugated iron belt; they turn up in derelict spaces with a laugh , a joke and a song for audiences with no roof over their heads. Their message, and the title of one of their plays, is “Squat Now While Stocks Last”, and they are not too insistent about passing the hat round. “This,” they complained to one penniless spectator, “is like bringing no coal to nowhere near Newcastle.

This week they are playing vaudeville in Covent Garden as one of the free neighbourhood shows presented by Alternative Arts. I would rather have seen one of their plays, but as the Italian Garden and its tasteful array of Greco-Roman remains is already knee –deep in tonic wine empties, one can see the hazards of attempting a dramatic performance. That, in fact, is the subject of the show which consists of a stormy rehearsal between an up-market actor in a suit and two clowns who sabotage his plans for appealing to the chic Garden audience of “nouveau have-nots in their patched dungarees”.

Two things stand out. It is a show about things going wrong, but its circus tricks are extremely skilful, and nothing goes wrong with the escapology and sword swallowing in spite of marauding dogs and Glaswegian winos. I commend the three man juggling fight to all circus enthusiasts. Second, the straight routines are most cunningly set up to prepare for the moments when the trio converge and slam over what they have to say about rising damp, council vandalism, and hammer swinging landlords. Some of this is crosstalk; some of it goes to fine old numbers like ‘Leaning on the Lamp-post’ and ‘Any Old Iron’ from which they take their rousing theme song:

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
Corrugated iron.

Irving Wardle. August 1978