Directors I have known, Brook and Barrault, Two very different men

During my years at the Roundhouse Theatre, we had the most amazing range of shows, from enormous film festivals, film crews shooting films, classical concerts, both ancient and contemporary, musicals, Shakespeare in a variety of styles, rock concerts, conferences, dance theatre and so on, the list is actually way too long to remember. Most shows were either one day events or only stayed with us for a month or so. Thus the change overs were long and frequent.

I have never worked so hard in my life as I did there.

Some of the events we had, do remain firmly in my memory, others have disappeared in the mists of time, which for some of them is a kindness to put it mildly as they were so unbelievably awful they deserve no better.

For the fun of it I shall describe some of those that did stick in my memory and the events surrounding them.

Some of these descriptions will be short, and only mention things that stood out about a particular production, others may well be rather longer if I can both remember anything much about them, and if they were so remarkable they are worth describing in some detail. So a series of random anecdotes really.

Obviously this will mean that I shall tell of my impressions of working with a number of amazingly talented, famous or totally untalented individuals who passed me in those years. Some of the least talented were also the most famous… Amazing what some people can manage with a loud voice and no talent.

Lets start with Peter Brook.

At that time he was probably the most successful and famous theatre director in the world, held in awe and almost godlike admiration by all actors and theatre folk for his brilliant directing mainly of Shakespeare. And there is no denying that he was a most amazing and wonderful director, and all his productions were a joy to experience. But unfortunately for me and my stage technicians, he was also a most unpleasant and arrogant man to have to deal with.

While I was at the Roundhouse he directed, either A Midsummer’s Dream, or the Tempest, I cant remember which it was, and his production entailed completely rebuilding the stage and seating in the theatre, which is a hell of a lot of work obviously. This we were used to, and had systems in place to make it as easy as possible, but it is a noisy and messy affair.

Generally productions were rehearsed elsewhere in rehearsal rooms somewhere, and the actors only came to rehears in the theatre for the last few days before their show opened, which gave us the time to crash around, hang lights, build seating rostra and stages and so on at our own pace.

For some reason however, Brooke felt it was necessary for him and his actors to do all their preparations in the theatre itself, not a happy mix.. Noisy technicians and actors trying to come to terms with his idiosyncratic vision of the play do not go well in the same space.

So whilst demanding we build a very complex auditorium and stage for his production, Brook also insisted on total silence as he and his actors played a range of theatrical games in a corner of the theatre.

His technique for getting silence was to sort of freeze whenever a particularly loud crash or stream of furious swearing from one or other technician occurred. Curious to see, he would sit there like a statue waiting for us to realise he was displeased and stop making any noises.

Unfortunately for him, my technicians had seen so many famous and admired people that they were totally unimpressed by him, and started to play a game with him… One of them would start hammering away at a bit of wood, which would cause him to freeze…. Silence would fall…. Then Brook would unfreeze and start working again.. whereupon one of the technicians would produce a loud noise… Brook would freeze again, and so it would go on, all day long.

During all of this I tried to stay out of sight, so I couldn’t be asked to make my guys work in total silence, as this would obviously been impossible and silly.

On the other hand, we also had a production called Rabelais, directed by Jean-Louis Barrault who was also a director of genius, a man with a long and highly regarded history in film and theatre. Unlike Brooke, this guy was a dream to work with, kind, thoughtful, brilliant, funny and civilised, and more importantly also worshiped by actors, particularly the cast of this show.

In spite of hardly speaking a word of English, and working here with an entirely English cast, he managed to communicate his ideas and needs with no real trouble, often resorting to mime to do this (for those of you who do not know of him, he was a famous mime among other things). I shall never forget him miming a war horse for one of the British actors who was having trouble miming that damned horse….. Barrault got up on the stage and damn me, but he became a horse… Superb guy.

He even managed to win over my technicians, which is no mean achievement, they fell for him totally, and would do anything he asked of them at once and to the best of their abilities.

Curiously he had a remarkable similarity to Kenneth Williams, which was a bit disconcerting at times.

The show itself was great fun to see, as it took place without seating over a long more or less cruciform set of stages, so the audience sort of followed the action from stage area to stage area. By the way, it was actually Rabalaise’s story of Gargantua, a very noisy, earthy and funny story, which an all English cast managed to pull off, in spite of the trouble English trained actors have with moving, being more word orientated in their training.

It is interesting to see how two more or less equally brilliant directors got the results they did by such totally different approaches to their cast and technicians. Give me Barrault’s approach any day over Brook’s arrogant approach.. The Barrault experience was a real pleasure for all involved, the Brook was only good for the audience, we hated him with a passion and thus got no enjoyment out of our work with him. And enjoying your work is important we all felt..

More to come as I think of it….

A very unlikely Hells Angels Chapter

As I said ages ago, this blog consists of random memories as they occur to me, so here is another such relatively pointless memory from my Roundhouse days – All about the most unlikely chapter of Hells Angels you could possibly imagine.

As I said ages ago, this blog consists of random memories as they occur to me, so here is another such relatively pointless memory from my Roundhouse Production Manager days – All about the most unlikely chapter of Hell’s Angels you could possibly imagine.

There was a small group of rather weedy young men who hung around the Roundhouse in those days, trying to get work from us as security for our Rock concerts (which we never gave them by the way) who felt that they were the epitome of what the Hell’s Angels stood for.
They wished to set up a proper London Chapter of the Angels for themselves.   But as they possessed only a small moped and a Mini Moke ( a sort of jeep version of the famous Mini car) we all felt that this was an unlikely dream.
They used to film themselves on that moped pobling along the road with a small video camera on the back of the Moke and obviously were living in a total fantasy world.
However, one day they astounded us all by coming into the Roundhouse full of excitement, as apparently the head Chapter of the Angels were sending someone over from California to make them into members of the club.
This bloke duly turned up one day, with an enormous heavily chopped bike (it only had half a petrol tank, so he could see the engine as he rode along on it).  And he was enormous as well.  A most impressive and rather intimidating creature to say the least.
He on his huge bike, and they on their moped and the Moke rode all over the place together for a couple of weeks, filming themselves of course and then he returned to the States, but had to our amazement actually enrolled them into the Hells Angels….
After which they wore their Angels jackets with great pride.  I wonder what became of them when the more normal Angels London Chapter was started.

Pork And Oh Calcutta – Curious Events

Many years ago I was Production manager at the Roundhouse Theatre in North London, a theatre that was something of an icon back in those far off days. We staged all manner of shows there, film festivals, weekly pop concerts, avant guard classical music concerts – basically, you name it, we showed it. Among the […]

Many years ago I was Production manager at the Roundhouse Theatre in North London, a theatre that was something of an icon back in those far off days. We staged all manner of shows there, film festivals, weekly pop concerts, avant guard classical music concerts – basically, you name it, we showed it.

Among the many other shows that we had there were two very famous and to a greater or lesser degree, pornographic ones.

Specifically these were Oh Calcutta, which after Hair, was the first show in London to have on-stage nudity and a show by Andy Warhol called Pork – Such subtlety eh?

So. what were they like, these two splendid examples of the theatrical arts?

Oh Calcutta

Oh Calcutta was a very dreary show, more or less entirely at the mental level of a smutty 14 year old schoolboy’s sense of humour – not surprisingly, as it had been written mainly by a number of English theatrical luminaries who were products of the British Public School System – In Britain a Public School means a very exclusive, expensive and in those days, boys only school, which churned out generations of men who somehow never quite grew up.

And Oh Calcutta was a very good example of their juvenile sense of humour.

Basically Oh Calcutta consisted of a load of shortish sketches, all dealing with sex in one way or another – but all in a school boy, sniggering fashion, so a sort of variety show really, and as I mentioned above, was one of the first theatrical shows in London with nudity, and also people apparently having sex as well (however, there was a clause in the contracts of the male actors that should they get an erection on-stage, they would be fired!). There was also a short playlet by Joe Orton which was actually quite funny, but for the rest, it was smutty dross.

There were as far as I was concerned, only two good things about it.

The first of these was a ballet sequence in it performed by two naked dancers, a man and a woman, which was incredibly beautiful to watch, and the second was that everyone and his uncle wanted to see the show, so we who worked at the Roundhouse did a roaring trade in smuggling people into the theatre to see the show – We stuffed people into the lighting booth, all around the auditorium and absolutely anywhere we could think of that would allow them to see the stage… And charged much fine money for this obviously..

Shot of the ballet….

There was one somewhat funny, yet sad thing that occurred to me in this respect.  I was mooching around outside the theatre looking for anyone who might wish to pay me to get them into the show, when an Indian family (Mother, father and youngish teenage daughter) approached me, and asked if I could get them into the show.   So I made the deal and took them into the Roundhouse and parked them on some kitchen chairs on the balcony, and left them to enjoy the show.

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Boulez And What’s His Name – 2 Very Different Conductors

While I was working at the Roundhouse Theatre in London, we not only held Rock Concerts regularly, (see my earlier posts about them) but for a period, we also hosted a series of classical concerts.  well, I use the term “classical” to differentiate them from the Rock Concerts, but in fact they were concerts made up of modern “serious” music.

What on earth do you call the contemporary equivalent of Bach and Wagner?

Whatever the correct term for this sort of music happens to be, the BBC had decided in its wisdom that they would broadcast a series of live concerts of extremely modern music under the baton of Pierre Boulez, who at that time (1974) was the resident conductor of the BBC Symphony Orchestra.

I am not sure why they had made this decision, except perhaps it might have been simply because Boulez was not only a conductor, but also a composer of such music, and a very active proponent of modern music.

Whatever the reason, a whole series of these concerts were put together and broadcast live from the Roundhouse over a period of several months.

Most of these concerts left me totally cold, as I have never been able to get into the more modern type of music.. all those plunks, squeals and roars simply fail to move me in any way – other than as far away from it all as I can get.   Having said that, working with Boulez was an unalloyed pleasure. He was such a gentle person, totally lacking in the arrogance I found to be the norm with many of the other conductors I worked with over the years. All conductors (except Boulez) insist on being addressed as Maestro for some reason, but he didn’t.   Well at least he never expected me to use that term, I always simply addressed him as Monsieur Boulez, and my technicians simply addressed him (to the total horror of the BBC guys and the members of the Symphony Orchestra) as Pierre.  Which didn’t phase him one bit.


As I said, off stage he was a delightful and relaxed man, extremely easy to work with and simply a pleasure to be with.  On stage however he was very different, still extremely civilised and polite, but meticulous and totally engaged in his work.  A total professional in all respects.

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John Cage – HPSCHD – Roundhouse Theatre

While I was Production Manager at the Roundhouse in the last few years of the 60’s and the first few years of the 70’s, we had an amazing range of events of one sort or another, many of which made one hell of an impression on me.   One of these was a most extraordinary concert of a piece by John Cage, called HPSCHD (Pronounced “Harpsichord”).

Here is a description from Wikipedia of what it was supposed to be:-

HPSCHD is composed of 7 solo pieces for harpsichord and 51 computer-generated tapes. The harpsichord solos were created from randomly processed pieces by Mozart, Beethoven, Chopin, Schumann, Gottschalk, Busoni, Schoenberg, Cage and Hiller, rewritten using a FORTRAN computer program designed by Ed Kobrin based on the I Ching hexagrams. Cage had initially turned down the commission (stating that he hated harpsichords because they reminded him of sewing machines) but Hiller’s proposal reignited his interest in the piece, which provided an interesting challenge for both Cage’s chance experiments and Hiller’s use of computer algorithms in musical composition.

Twenty-minute solos for one to seven amplified harpsichords and tapes for one to fifty-two amplified monaural machines to be used in whole or in part in any combination with or without interruptions, etc., to make an indeterminate concert of any agreed-upon length having two to fifty-nine channels with loud-speakers around the audience. […] In addition to playing his own solo, each harpsichordist is free to play any of the others.

Following the debut at Urbana, Cage acknowledged the chaotic nature of the piece and the performance, explaining: “When I produce a happening, I try my best to remove intention in order that what is done will not oblige the listener in any one way. I don’t think we’re really interested in the validity of compositions any more. We’re interested in the experiences of things.”

So now you know.

The version above is not really much like what I saw and heard in the probably better environment for such a “concert” of the Roundhouse, where there was ample room for the various stages and the public to wander from player to player at will.


But it gives at least a bit of an idea of what we experienced, even though ours went on for about 3 hours, rather than the 30 odd minutes of the one above.

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Life In The Roundhouse Theatre – 60’s Style

Life at the Roundhouse was never dull back in the late 60’s and early 70’s, as we experienced at first hand the hassles of Rock and Roll concerts and  how to cope with the rather strange world of British Royalty.

As I have written, at the Roundhouse we had rock concerts each Sunday.  These were quite large events, which ran from about midday to midnight, and typically had audiences of around 2000 people (we removed all the seats from the auditorium for these concerts) and of course attracted not only the main audience, but all the peripheral hangers on of the world of Rock and Roll – drug dealers, groupies, fans, fast food sellers, ticket touts and so on.  Some of these were a problem for us, others not.  So I thought you might be amused to read about how we dealt with some of the other groups of people who such concerts attracted.


As is well known, Rock and Roll attracts groupies, what might be less well known is that by and large these girls tended to be very young indeed, many were between 13 and 16 year old.   Whilst my security guys on the concerts had very strict instructions not to let any of these little girls back-stage or into the dressing rooms, nonetheless, the groups themselves mostly managed to find ways of getting these girls back-stage, and other girls knew exactly how to sweet talk the security guys into letting them back-stage.

Basically what all these girls were looking for was to have sex with as many Rock musicians as they could manage, and most of the musicians were very happy to help them in this ambition.  A sort of symbiotic relationship thus.   By and large the actual sex happened after the concert was over, and the bands had taken their chosen girls off to their hotels with them – Back-stage at the Roundhouse was not really conducive to good sex to be honest.  So one part of our post-concert work was chasing away the girls who had been rejected for one reason or another by the groups, and who were left sadly littering up the dressing rooms after everyone had gone away.

I always found this a depressing business, trying to persuade stoned and very young and unhappy (they had been left behind by the bands after all) little girls that they had to go home and try again the following week.   Frequently they sort of hung on grimly in the hope that one or other musician would return to claim them, which of course never happened, so it could take a long time and a lot of hassle to get them to leave.

And as I said, they tended to be well below the age of consent, which appeared to worry no-one back then, but which I suppose is giving many an elderly Rock musicians sleepless nights now given the changed attitudes to such goings on.

Hot dog wars:

From the depressing to the ridiculous.   Outside the Roundhouse during these concerts there were a group of guys selling hotdogs from carts, most of whom we knew and liked well enough, and who cheerfully gave us free hotdogs as a sort of “license” fee for setting up their carts on our property.

However, after these concerts had been running for some time, a sort of mini-mafia in the hotdog world realised that good money was to be earned at the Roundhouse each Sunday, and decided to chase off the original sellers and set up their own guys there each weekend.


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