Archives for posts with tag: Bertolt Brecht

The last few days of our great adventure.   We left Sanary and the Hotel de la Tour yesterday morning taking time to stop at the market to buy chicken, fruit, macaroons and a delicious loaf of artisan bread.  Fruit included huge white peaches, yellow plums and sweet apricots.

We loved Sanary Sur Mer and were delighted to discover that Aldous Huxley lived there.  After 1933, when Hitler came to power, dozens of German intellectuals took refuge in what was then just a sleepy fishing port – amongst them Bertolt Brecht and Thomas Mann.

The road along the coast is not nearly as busy as one might expect.   We drove through Toulon which was badly bombed during the 2nd World War and onto the Iles d’Hyeres where we ate the delicious chicken and fruit on a huge beach and swam in very warm water.   The little dog is not allowed on any of the beaches so we smuggle him everywhere in his little bag where he sleeps contentedly.

After lunch I call Edouard who, by amazing coincidence, lives a mere hour away from where we were swimming so we arranged to stop in on him and his visiting Australian friends.  Edouard’s parents house is a Provencal gem.  A huge pool overlooking the ocean, hundred year old terracotta tiles and elegant furnishings.

Nearby we found a small hotel for the night called the Hotel de la Plage recommended by the Guardian Newspaper (described as Cheap and Chic) where I am now sitting at 8am under the unusually fragrant Oleander writing this and answering emails.

We joined Edouard and the Australians for a lazy afternoon swim in the tiny bay.

After our delicious swim they drank chilled rose and I citron presse.  The young men tidying the beach were, as usual, gorgeous.  The companion noted that Europeans are generally hairless.  As the sun set we lazily climbed the hill back to Edouard’s house and they grilled Daurade Royale for dinner which was totally delicious.

The Australians are singers.  Julia Gurry and her brother are Melbourne based folk singers and are currently touring France this Autumn.  Abby Dobson was also at the house as she is dating Julia’s brother.  Abby used to be the singer in a band called Leonardo’s Bride and had a huge hit with a sweet love song in the 90’s called Even When I’m Sleeping.  Abby entertained us with astrological analysis.  Apparently Cancer’s are prone to be moody.  Who knew?

The more tired I get the worst my stick shift driving becomes.   The car is full of dirty underwear.  Must find laundry.

We were meant to be staying with friends in St Tropez, people I had royally accommodated when they were visiting LA..anyway, they have totally let us down.  Really puts one off hosting anyone ever.

Occasionally dip into the Huffington Post but too depressing and bleak and all those damned pop up advertisements!   Arianna addicted to bad news and gloating…too many tabloid elements.

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Whitstable, that’s where we grew up.  The High Street, a shingle beach, abandoned oyster beds, abandoned boat yards.

I knew I wanted to make something.  I never knew quite what.  Writing, knitting, print-making, drawing, theatre, acting, fashion.  Good… but never good enough.  Wanting to be included but unwilling to participate.  Confident to be part of what was going on but seldom sure.  Always there, never present.

Had I been allowed, as planned, to go to St Martin’s College of Art to study fashion I would have become a fashion designer.  I still have note books crammed with crude fashion drawings and swatches of hideous fabric made when I was 8 years old.  Each ‘season’ I would design a new collection and between ‘collections’ I would write and illustrate articles about the history of fashion.

An avid fashion commentator who had unwelcome, prepubescent opinions about everything.  My damning critique of Princess Anne’s ‘boring’ ivory duchess satin wedding dress in 1973 irritated my short-tempered, royalist Grandmother.  “Look at those ghastly sleeves…”

I was an industrious child.  At boarding school I excelled.

When I wasn’t busily designing imaginary runway collections I worked hard remaking my life, a life I could control. A life reimagined included: a 30 page illustrated story about a happy family of mice.  A precocious teenager at boarding school I spent months writing and rewriting rambling plays about unrequited love with other boys.

I saw my first proper play on a high school outing to Stoke on Trent.  Bertolt Brecht‘s, The Caucasian Chalk Circle with Bob Hoskins.  1975.  I was hooked.

Theatre!  I must make theatre.  The lights, the tension, the smell of the theatre.  The warmth and silence of the audience, laughter erupting around me, muffled crying from the red velvet stalls.

Oddly, I had absolutely no great passion for film or television.  Of course, I had seen many films but it wasn’t a world that piqued my interest.  I had a fondness for black and white Hollywood films from the 1940’s (particularly musicals) that I would either watch on the television on my own or walk up Whitstable High Street to the cavernous Oxford Cinema.

I was inspired.  Stealing an idea for my ‘new collection’, a sleeve or muff.  I watched the credits roll:  costume designer Edith Head… Funny Face.  Adrian, who designed the costumes for The Wizard of Oz.

I’m 12 years old.  I discover Marilyn Monroe without ever knowing she is already an established gay icon.  The following year I insist that my parents buy me Norman Mailer’s illustrated biography for Christmas.

Theatre and fashion people referenced film but nobody I knew would ever have thought about making one.

The years after I left Shotton Hall School in 1976, before I went to prison in 1983 were culturally the richest of my life.  I scraped into Medway College of Art and Design with one ‘O’ level.  I befriended punk rocker Billy Childish.  I learned how to etch and screen print and draw.  Punk was determining music fashion and graphics but scarcely impacted the institutionalized, established, sewn up world of British contemporary art.  Britain would have to wait until 1989 until Michael Clark, Tilda Swinton and Leigh Bowery performed in the Anthony d’Offay Gallery.

Whilst at Medway,  I saw a very ordinary man wearing a badly cut suit his tie askew commuting from London to Thanet holding a copy of The Sex Pistol‘s single God Save The Queen and nearly fainted in fear.  I was wearing a pair of my mother’s bottle green woolen tights.  I wonder what he must have thought about me?  He alighted at Rainham.

Unable to study fashion at St Martin’s College as my garrulous stepfather refused to let me.  I had to get a job. The job I was offered, selling clothes at Yves Saint Laurent on Bond Street, London became the beginning of what would turn out to be a great, although misguided, adventure.  An adventure that would shape the rest of my life.

I met Lady Clare Rendlesham and within a few months I was in Paris pretending to be her son.

Clare Rendlesham and others

Along with changing my identity,  in Paris I threw myself head long into the very accommodating worlds of fashion, performance art and theatre.

The land of sublime artifice.

During the pret-a-porter I would run with my friends through the streets of Paris from show to show.  Although my time in Paris seems less, in retrospect, about theatre and more about fashion and art, I was introduced to Robert Wilson and members of his company, traveled to Holland to see Lucinda Childs in Dance with music by Phillip Glass and travelled more to see beautiful work by Pina Bausch.

Pina Bausch died this year.

I was one of the first people in Paris to wear a Walkman.  I think I may still own that original item.  Some rich friend of a rich friend left it at my place.  He had bought it from Tokyo where he’d been modeling and never asked for it back.  Suddenly I had my very own soundtrack.  My life scored by Super Tramp.  The optimistic opening bars of  Take The Long Way Home soaring over the controversial rebuilding of Les Halles that seems only recently to have settled into its surroundings.  Music altered my perception of where I was and how I experienced it.  Paris was never so beautiful.

 

Duncan 19

It was during this time in 1978, as a willowy teenager, I chanced upon Fred Hughes at John Jermyn’s Rue de Bellechasse home.  That beautifully, wonderfully decorated house… rococo monkeys fucking on the drawing-room walls painted by Harry Gromelion and acres of Fortuny silk.

Fred had been, the year I met him, diagnosed with MS and had become nihilistic and surly.

When Fred got sick, he had to go to the American Hospital, and I decorated his room. I went to visit him, and brought pictures he liked, from his house and flowers…”  Julian Schnabel

Fred, so reviled, cut a sad and lonely path through his own life ending up incapacitated and angry.  At the end, surrounded in his Lexington Avenue home by the most beautiful things, nothing could placate him.  His terrible Texan mother moved in to help, firing his loyal assistant.  We never saw him again.

When I met Fred he had slicked back black hair and tailored suits, he lived in an apartment on the Rue du Cherche-Midi and was, to a provincial teenager, incredibly glamorous… a true dandy.

“It was I who found Fred Hughes his Paris apartment on the Rue du Cherche-Midi, where Warhol would stay.”  Pierre Berger

He liked me because he thought I was a British aristocrat.  He was a terrible snob.  Later, when he knew the truth, he would laugh and mock the moment we met and feign outrage.  He only ever called me Anthony.

Fred took me to New York, bought me Vetiver and appropriate underwear, gave me drugs at Studio 54, lent me shirts that belonged to Farouk, the last King of Egypt.  He wrapped me up in linen sheets and laughed at my jokes.  Fred introduced me to Yves St-Laurent and his muse LouLou de la Falaise, Baron Eric De Rothschild, flame haired owner of Egoiste magazine Nicole Wisniak.  I sat entranced by these people.  Wearing clothes Fred had bought for me, a brand new name.  Sloughing off the past… a past for which I had no need.

Perhaps we understood each other because we had both abandoned our past for a far more thrilling present.  After his death he was described as ‘a consummate liar, social climber, and a bespoke SOB who grew to total ghoulishness because of his connection to Andy Warhol.’

Isn’t everyone a social climber of some kind… and why the hell not?  It’s galling to have Fred’s memory so maligned.  From what I saw he managed or rather… baby sat Andy Warhol, pulling him out of relative poverty, protecting him from the unworthiest.

Was that a lie?  I really don’t have a clue.  As a teenager I thought he was just swell.

It is so sad to see him like this, stricken with MS:

 

This photograph is amusing.  Tim Hunt, Princess Anne of Bavaria, Me and Alexis de Toqueville at Anne’s apartment in Paris.  Like so many beautiful young men from that time, Alexis would die of AIDS.  Hid family refused to acknowledge his life as a gay man and his death as a gay man.

Samia Saouma’s Gallery (another social hub as great galleries tend to be) I was introduced to the work of  The Baron de Meyer, Man Ray and Joseph Kosuth.  I followed the crowd and applauded the sparse and mannered work of Robert Wilson.  We saw I Was Sitting on My Patio This Guy Appeared I Thought I Was Hallucinating and Death Destruction and Detroit.

In Paris I learned about artists and their power and prestige.  Most of these men and women, invited to Europe during the late 70’s early 80’s, were American.  Flooding the world with new ideas; polemical and challenging.

What happened to the arts?   Even though British theatre seems to have maintained it’s edge, British art has become increasingly bland and decorative.  Says nothing of the war or the bloody peace.

Paris was just how Paris is meant to be: an education for a young man.

Before we leave Paris there was one sublime moment.  It was a moment.  We all need them.  Romantic.  I had been invited to the house of some elderly Duke.  On an orange velvet wall hung a huge sunset by Turner.  Surrounded by furniture, a light supper served in front of it.  This is how art should be enjoyed.  Domestically.

Turner

Returning to England I was given the telephone number of Erica Bolton by The Princess Anne of Bavaria.   I met Erica at The Riverside Studios in Hammersmith, West London, where she worked as a publicist.   My great love affair with the theatre began in earnest.

David Gothard Riverside Studios

Erica Bolton, in turn, introduced me to a community of successful writers and directors. Men and women who inspired me to make my own theatre, my own films, my own art.

I listened and learned.

Erica sneaks me into the theatre to see Kantor’s sold out show Wielopole, Wielopole. I sit in the Gods looking down at syphilitic soldiers marching, wax figures strapped to the living, a monochrome set with Kantor in the middle of it all tweaking his memories and watching sadly as the dead come back to life.

It was triumphant, breathtaking theatre and in sharp contrast to the very British, academic work of Peter Gill (Cherry Orchard) who I met that year (1978) and his then assistant David Levaux the now hugely respected Broadway director.

There were so many exciting people to hang out with at The Riverside like the precocious Hanif Kureishi fresh from his triumphant stint at The Royal Court.

Pioneering David Gothard, the artistic director, the genius at the very heart of the Riverside Studios.   Responsible for bringing Tadeusz Kantor, Miro, Shuji Tereyama and many others not only to Hammersmith but to the UK.  Night after night we sat in the canteen drinking beer and smoking cigarettes.  I loved every moment.

In 1979 I made my way to Paris to see Peter Brook’s Bouffes du Nord.  To Paris by boat and train to see Brook’s Conference of the Birds.  The raw brick walls and magnificent arches quite unlike any other performance space.  I can’t remember where I stayed that night.  I was in heaven.  I remember the Persian rugs on the floor, the chirping of the cast as they imitated different birds..a chorus… the dawn chorus.

I wanted to make theatre so badly.    When I finally got around to it I made just one good work The Host.  The other works (as it turned out) a preamble for my later film making and really not that good.

In 1981 I moved into a small flat in Furlong Road, Islington.  The home of director Michael Darlow.  The flat came with a job:  nanny to their wayward 13-year-old adopted son.  Wandering the streets I discovered the derelict Almeida Theatre where I would end up having my 22nd Birthday thrown by designer Scott Crolla.  Furniture Designer Tom Dixon was our doorman.  William Burroughs came.

‘Come Dressed at Duncan Roy’ the invitation demanded.

Here are Kadir Guirey and Tom Dixon in their band Funkapolitan…

The Almeida Theatre, bought and renovated (Bouffe de Nord style) by Lebanese born Pierre Audi.   I managed, by chance, to witness the birth of an institution.   Even when derelict, Pierre used the space as a theatre.  Amongst many, early notable Almeida productions I saw A Dybbuk For Two People with Bruce Myers and in 1982, at Saint James’s Church, Chillingworth Road at the Almeida International Festival of Contemporary Music, John Cage at 70.  Stunning.

Early 1983 I was arrested and imprisoned for running up a huge bill on my credit card.   I spent the next ten months starved of  theatre and art but found another altogether unexpected beauty.

I was 23.  Prison, as I have said before, was beautiful.

People like Erica bid their adieu and I would never really see them again.

1983, months after I left Wormwood Scrubbs Prison I answered an advertisement in Time Out Magazine. Neil Bartlett was looking for performers to open his show PORNOGRAPHY, a Spectacle at the Institute of Contemporary Arts.  It was a gruelling process, one I found particularly hard to get to grips with.  Acting, as you may know, requires the performer to be real and at this time in my life I really had no idea how to do that at all.

As with my appearance in the ‘A’ list thirty years later, people mocked my decision to be in a gay play about sex and sexuality.   Life is for the experience… isn’t it?  One grand adventure after another.

Theatre

Pornography: A Spectacle. 1983/84 Actor

  • Institute of Contemporary Arts, London, 6 city UK tour, Poor Alex Theatre, Toronto, Canada
  • Devised with Ivan Cartwright, Neil Bartlett and Robin Whitmore

Robin, Ivan and Duncan in ‘Pornography, a Spectacle’

“Pornography is quite wonderful, outrageous, intentionally shocking — but with real human beings stepping through the sensationalism at regular intervals to speak between the screams of cliché in normal conversational tones about who they are and how they really feel. The recurrent theme is one of intense pornographic description, which the actors suddenly stop, pause, and say, “of course that was merely a quotation,” or “but it really wasn’t like that.” Sky Gilbert

The Critic by Sheridan: 1984 Actor – Mr. Puff

  • Edinburgh Festival

The Host: 1987 Writer/Director

  • Institute of Contemporary Art London and National Review of Live Art Glasgow with Georgia Byng and Tatiana Strauss
  • October Gallery

Bad Baby: 1989 Writer/Director

  • The Penny Theatre, Canterbury, Kent, Hen and Chickens Theatre, Islington North London
  • Using a cast of local Kent performers this play examined issues of child abuse using Beatrix Campbell’s Unofficial Secrets as the basis of the text.

Marrianne Fearnside in Bad Baby

The Baron in the Trees: 1990 Writer/Director

  • Adapted from the Italo Calvino novel of the same name for The Penny Theatre, Canterbury, Kent

Copper’s Bottom: 1991 Writer/Director

  • Sadler’s Wells Theatre, starring Aiden Shaw

Call me Susan: 1993 Co-writer

  • Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh; Edinburgh Festival Fringe;
  • Call Me Susan explored issues surrounding prostitution across Europe. A dramatized discussion between two prostitutes interspersed with real-life recorded testimonies and pictures of prostitutes working in six European cities.