Jon Oram second left, Keith Johnstone sitting centre, Roddy Maude Roxby seated far right on the Royal Court Stage
Theresa Dudeck, writer of 'Keith Johnstone a critical biography' is making a documentary film about Keith Johnstone and organised an on stage interview with the him and some to the original members of Theatre Machine. The Royal Court Theatre was Keith's early theatrical home. He had been appointed Literary Manager of the Court, reading and selecting scripts, when Bill Gaskill invited him to run the writer's workshop 50years ago. The philosophy was not to talk if you could show or do - action over words. So when Edward Bond was struck with the idea that a chair could be a character on stage, the writers had to stand up to demonstrate it. John Arden, David Cregan, Edward Bond, and Ann Jellicoe were among the writer's in the group. It was an extraordinary reunion in the week that Ann died; Keith especially found it a poignant occasion. The writer's group had a huge influence on Ann, the writing of the Knack came directly out of those workshops, and the idea of "don't tell but show" became a big part of her directing as well as writing style. Alongside the writer's group Keith started developing improvisation with actors and formed Theatre Machine. Here they discovered the significance of status to make performance more natural, and many of the games and rules such as "yes..and " are now the fundamental basis of impro. Keith told us " we laughed so much in the writers group I wanted to perform improvisation to audiences to check that it wasn't just us that found it so amusing. The audiences laughed even more, and louder." When Keith left England for Canada in the mid seventies, Theatre Machine continued performing and developing their own style. Roddy Maude Roxby has a big influence on their style, especially with his love of masks. Keith' work and his book Impro has had a dramatic influence worldwide on theatre performance. There was also no improvisation in drama schools then, now its an essential part of the actors training.
In in 1985 when I first took over Colway Theatre from Ann, I ran ten day a course with Keith at Monkton Wilde in Dorset for a select group of twenty actors, directors, writers and drama/theatre teachers. Among the group were Julian Crouch and Phelim McDermott, who were to go on to found Improbable Theatre. Phelim McDermott. Keith introduced 'The Life Game' for the first time on this course. When I ran to Phelim again at this event he told me he "vowed to put on "The Life Game' himself" Twenty years later he made a serious theatre show of it and toured it world wide . Improbable regularly return to it. A collaborator of "Life Game" and Improbable is Lee Simpson who was also at the event. Co-incidently Lee told me he remembers me in Norfolk when I was a drama Advisor and he was still at school. His Drama teacher insisted that we meet me and Lee did an audition for me. Extraordinary he remembered after so many years. I was apparently helpful.
Lee Simpson, Jon Oram and Keith Johnstone
It was amazing to spend a brief moment with Keith again. I do remember the ten days he taught at Monkton Wilde and how in the evenings he would come back to my house, Rose Cottage, just a short walk away and we'd talk about they day. I learnt more about teaching in those few days than I did in three years of teacher training. We talked about teaching again but mostly about Ann. Keith was genuinely heartbroken, they have been close friends for sixty years, he was unable to attend the funeral because he has a flight back to Canada booked, and he struggles now with walking. As left I told Keith I would be the celebrant at Ann's funeral in a few days and whether he had anything he wanted to say about her. He didn't hesitate - "Yes" he said "Ann always wanted to be truthful, and she always was. Tell them that." I did.
Ann Jellicoe obituary
Michael Coveney and David Edgar
Friday 1 September 2017 16.46 BST
Last modified on Wednesday 13 September 2017 17.22 BST
Playwright and director who scored an international hit with The Knack and pushed the boundaries of community theatre
There were two distinct, equally significant, phases to the career of the playwright and director Ann Jellicoe, who has died aged 90. Both were rooted in her dedication to making good theatre of text, and good text of theatre. This led to a slightly conflicted attitude towards her profession that was only fully resolved when she broke clear of the Royal Court – where, in George Devine’s game-changing English Stage Company of the late 1950s, she was a much favoured and respected linchpin, writing two plays that are part of a legendary canon in Sloane Square, The Sport of My Mad Mother (1958) and The Knack (1962). The second of these made an unusual, quirky star of Rita Tushingham on stage and in Richard Lester’s “swinging London” 1965 screen version, which won the Palme d’Or at Cannes.
It was only after leaving London for Lyme Regis, Dorset, in 1975 with her husband, the photographer Roger Mayne, and starting what was to become a highly influential career in community theatre that, for the first time, Jellicoe said: “I didn’t feel a divided person.” She wrote a play about the Monmouth rebellion, The Reckoning (1978), for the local comprehensive school, which was staged, with a cast of 80 amateurs and a few professionals, by the University of Exeter, with financial support from local trusts and charities, as well as the local council, which supplied a large banner and plenty of chairs.
In 1979 she set up the Colway Theatre Trust to further explore doing plays in the community, producing more than 40 large-scale pieces, including those of major playwrights – David Edgar, Howard Barker, Fay Weldon, Nick Darke – with a south-west of England historical connotation. Subjects included a female brewer’s confrontation with a crusading Dorchester vicar during the cholera epidemic of the 1850s (Edgar’s Entertaining Strangers) and social unrest in the post-Napoleonic industrial slump (Barker’s The Poor Man’s Friend). In 1985 she passed the baton to Jon Oram whose renamed Claque Theatre continues to evolve spectacular “living history” community epics, not only in Devon and Dorset but all over Britain.
Rita Tushingham in the Royal Court stage version of The Knack, by Ann Jellicoe, 1962. Photograph: Roger Mayne Archive
Jellicoe was born in Middlesbrough, North Yorkshire, and grew up there and in Saltburn on the north-east coast, attending Polam Hall school in Darlington and then Queen Margaret’s, Escrick Park, near York, before going to London and the Central School of Speech and Drama as the second world war ended. She was an unhappy child, her father, John Jellicoe, an officer in the armed forces, and mother, Frances (nee Henderson), having separated before she was two. The idea of being an actor was her solace from the age of four.
She took dancing lessons and supervised plays and charades throughout her school days. Between 1947 and 1951, after Central, she worked in London and the regions as an actor, stage manager and director. She made a study of the relationship between acting and theatre architecture before founding and directing the Cockpit theatre club to produce experiments on an open, Elizabethan-style stage, the first in London for 400 years.
Portrait of Ann Jellicoe by her husband, the photographer Roger Mayne
She was invited back to Central in 1953 as a teacher of acting. She stayed for three years while submitting plays, one of them, The Sport of My Mad Mother, to the Observer playwrights’ competition organised by Kenneth Tynan. The play, awarded third prize jointly with NF Simpson’s A Resounding Tinkle, featured a bunch of wild boys given to casual violence, a couple of outsiders and a spiritual leader who gives birth to the creative future. It was, said Tynan, a tour de force that belonged to no known category of theatre, but it was booed off by critics and public alike, and reluctantly withdrawn by Devine after only 14 performances.
Devine, who co-directed the play with Jellicoe, recognised in her, said the critic Irving Wardle, a tough professional competence as well as an experimental writing talent. He regarded himself as her “mad uncle” and invited her to join his writers’ group (along with Arnold Wesker, John Arden, Keith Johnstone and Wole Soyinka). She continued writing and also translating, first Ibsen’s Rosmersholm for Devine, starring Peggy Ashcroft and Eric Porter in 1959, and then, in the West End in 1961, Ibsen’s The Lady from the Sea, starring Margaret Leighton, Vanessa Redgrave and John Neville. Her 1964 translation (with Ariadne Nicolaeff) of Chekhov’s The Seagull for the English Shakespeare Company at the Queen’s was an unforgettable occasion, starring Devine as Dorn, Ashcroft as Arkadina, Peter Finch as Trigorin, Redgrave as Nina, and Peter McEnery as Konstantin.
By then, she had scored a bull’s-eye with The Knack, which she co-directed with Keith Johnstone; James Bolam, Julian Glover and Philip Locke were the three men circling Tushingham as the girl who comes to the house they share. The play was an international hit and was directed in New York by Mike Nichols. When William Gaskill took over as the Court’s artistic director in 1965, following Devine’s death, he opened with Jellicoe’s production of her own Shelley, a documentary-style biography of the poet wrestling with notions of goodness, the rejection of creative artists and the place of women – Shelley was portrayed as a misogynist. Described by one critic as “a strange, almost wilfully unappealing play”, it was followed by Simpson’s The Cresta Run and two other equally snubbed but embryonic classics – Edward Bond’s Saved and John Arden’s Serjeant Musgrave’s Dance.
After her first play bombed, Jellicoe had nonetheless been approached by the Girl Guides Association to write a spectacle for a cast of hundreds. In The Rising Generation, girls were urged to reject men and claim Shakespeare, Milton and Isaac Newton as female. Unsurprisingly, the Girl Guides rejected the play, but it surfaced briefly as a Sunday night show “without decor” at the Court in 1967 – with three actors and a mere 200 children – in what Jellicoe described as “the most successful first night I ever had”, thus leading her to think more along the lines of plays in the community.
The Reckoning, Ann Jellicoe’s first community play, in Lyme Regis, Dorset, 1978. Photograph: Roger Mayne Archive
She briefly took a more commercial tack in a West End comedy, The Giveaway (1968) at the Garrick, in which another plot of sexual siege-laying was wrapped in an absurdist scenario of a family who had won a 10-year supply of breakfast cereal contained in eight huge on-stage crates. After a break to have two children, she was invited back to the Court as literary manager, and directed there Paul Bailey’s A Worthy Guest (1974) as well as a series of children’s plays (“Jelliplays”), before decamping for good to Dorset with her family. She wrote several community plays for her new company and a fine practical handbook, Community Plays: How to Put Them On (1987). Her productions always had a core of professionals – usually the writer, director, composer and designer – but everything else was done by and with the community.
After stepping down from running the Colway Theatre Trust, she still wrote for the organisation as it widened its geographical net beyond the south-west: Changing Places (1992) was a play about suffrage in Woking, Surrey, and its local heroine, the composer Dame Ethel Smyth.
Her first marriage ended in divorce. Mayne, whom she married in 1962, died in 2014. She is survived by their daughter, Katkin, and son, Tom.
David Edgar writes: In 1984, I was invited to Lyme Regis, Dorset, to see Ann Jellicoe’s fourth community play, The Western Women. I’d known of this work but was unprepared for its overwhelming impact in practice. I was asked to be the writer on the next-but-one play, and accepted immediately.
Ann was aware of the sensitivities of the communities she worked with, but also of the likely politics of the playwrights she would attract. She told me that, if I had to make the play about wicked capitalists, it would be best if they came from out of town. In fact, we came up with a story of a titanic struggle between a pioneering woman brewer and a fundamentalist parson. Entertaining Strangers: A Play for Dorchester was performed in St Mary’s, the church the vicar founded, with more than 100 community actors.
The play was remounted at the National Theatre in 1987, with Judi Dench and Tim Pigott-Smith in the leads. The revival fed a myth that Ann’s method was essentially colonial, airlifting in her fancy theatrical friends to impose their vision on the community and move on. In fact, Dorchester is the best possible example of the long-term impact of the form: my play has been followed by six more, with a seventh (by Stephanie Dale) coming up. The Ansell family – three generations, participating in every Dorchester play so far – is a prime example of how Ann’s community plays changed lives.
• Patricia Ann Jellicoe, playwright and director, born 15 July 1927; died 31 August 2017
On January 19th 2012 a memorial service was held for John Marshall in the chapel of Tonbridge School. Over 500 people attended. The CREATE Choir, Tonbridge School Choir and Quintus – sung some of John’s favourite music. Tributes were made by Geoff and Charles Marshall (John’s father and brother) Mike Morrison (representing the school) and myself as a friend and colleague. John was a member of Claque Theatre Board and an inspiration and collaborator in the Camden Road Community Play. This is my ‘Tribute to a friend’
Before I talk about John I want to ask his parents: what wonderful spell did you weave to produce two such remarkable sons? On behalf of everyone here, thank you, thank you for John. And thank you, Charles, for taking on the new role of a big brother to all of us. Your strength and affection has helped us all hold it together.
Some years ago John asked if I would do a community play in Tunbridge Wells. I made some excuse but obviously wasn’t emphatic enough because, from that day on, he relentlessly reminded me of the pending local play I’d promised. In time hypnotised by John’s enthusiasm to do something spectacular I said yes. How could you say no to that face? I have a spaniel that gives me the same look.
John was able to present a quiet and gentle manner that one could easily mistake for ‘sensible’. Yet he was an ardent Impresario and risk taker. He fearlessly undertook big projects. He loved the high arts, thrilled at seeing, listening, and especially working with the best in their field. He was so motivated and proud of his dear friends in Quintus.
John was central to the success of Camden Road the Musical and supporting two years of projects that culminated in The Vanishing Elephant. Following the play, as a founder member of CREATE he tirelessly collaborated in sustaining cultural events for Camden Road. He was a board member of Claque. John had personal ambitions and dreams of his own that he wanted to fulfil, but, put them on hold because he was more and more consumed helping others fulfil theirs.
Over the past few years John was re-inventing himself, tackling things just out of range, just to see what he might learn. One such was the CREATE choir. John was a paradox, because, however talented we all perceived him to be, his humility verged on self deprecation and however encouraging and optimistic he appeared he was haunted by the thought that he wasn’t up to the task of leading a community choir. How wrong he was but he felt it all the same. It took a step of courage, but facing his devils was a better option to him than letting his friends down. In the process something changed.
I want to say to the choir, that his joy of working with you went through the roof. Through you, he was beginning to see in himself something of the inspirational teacher he could be. He had the ability to teach you and learn from you at the same time and it allowed him to be both leader and member of the choir and to transform you from being a community to being a family.
Many beautiful words have been written about John recently, what’s telling is that everyone refers to how he lit up a room. But I’ve not heard anyone say why. Well I think it was you, he lit up because he’d seen you. He simply lit up when he saw any of us.
And when you talked to John it was the “you and he and here and now” that mattered. He really knew how to attend. It’s what made us all think we were his best friends. I don’t just mean that this chapel is full of his best friends, of course it is, but that most of us will be thinking, “I was John’s best friend.” How is that possible? Well John was a social magician.
There’s a 40-second video clip that Alex put on face book of John playing with his baby nephew James. John is lying on the floor and James is tapping at John’s face. There’s a moment when John buries his face into James’s tummy and inhales. Talk about living in the present. It’s where children live, but it’s where John lived too. Most of us lose this in adulthood, John didn’t.
When Dennis Potter was told that he had as little as three months to live, he gave a last interview. John and I both loved this passage:
Below my window in Ross, the blossom is out in full … it’s white, and looking at it, instead of saying “Oh that’s nice blossom” … last week looking at it through the window .. I see it is the whitest, frothiest, blossomest blossom that there ever could be, and I can see it. Things are both more trivial than they ever were, and more important than they ever were, and the difference between the trivial and the important doesn’t seem to matter. But the nowness of everything is absolutely wondrous, and if people could see that, you know. There’s no way of telling you; you have to experience it, but the glory of it, if you like…. The fact is, if you see the present tense, boy do you see it! And boy can you celebrate it.
John saw it. But he filled every moment of each day not because he thought it would be his last but because he knew the worth of a day and the value of a moment.
I’m not looking for reassurance. This depth of grief we feel is because we loved and were loved and it seems this pain is the price we pay. But, Oh, the joy of him, how privileged we all are. I don’t want to construct some reason why John died it would diminish him for me. There simply isn’t one, not when he had so much more to do, and to give; and so much more to experience. It is wrong in every sense. And as much as we would like to call John back and indeed yearn to, we can’t. I need to come to terms with that and somehow redefine the relationship. I do know where it look for it, – it’s to be found holding him in my head and heart, in remembering his ideals, what he stood for, what I understood of his values, his sense of justice and injustice, his ridiculous sense of humour, his vision, dreams, compassion, hopes, fears, his unanswered question, these are things of him, in me now that will continue to influence my life. He was and will always be an inspiration. He has become an integral part of the inbuilt compass. It’s nothing like as good or accurate as the real thing, but it will have to do. Most of all, I must try to absorb at least a little of that remarkable talent he had for living.
It’s tragic that there was has been no reference to Dorothy Heathcote in the National press since her recent death. On the other hand it comes as no surprise. Recognition, not for herself, but her ideas, was a battle she fought all her life. I’ve heard the intellectual traditionalists describe her as one of those soft liberals. It’s a mistake, she was first and foremost passionate about intellectual pursuit, I know very few who were so well read and had such a breath of knowledge, and she was also about children’s quest for knowledge. People respond to Dorothy’s work on a number of levels, for thousands of individuals it is inspiring and life changing; many educationalists, without a second glance dismiss it as wishy-washy and see no discernable connection between it and academic advancement; a great number are simply overwhelmed by the challenges it demands in teaching style and the reassessment of what ‘education’ really is. So her concept of education has generally been kept confined to the educational backburner. I say back burner rather than ‘bin’ as an indication of hope. She was ahead of her time but the traditionalist who imposes our current education system will eventually have to wake up to the changing needs of the 21st century encompassed in the common sense values she practiced. Great ideas are part of the evolutionary process and are frustratingly slow. It can take generations to move the most obvious idea into practice.
Because so many people haven’t come across her work I thought it might be useful, just as a flavour, to explain one aspect of her of teaching practice. Dorothy was first and foremost practical. Her ideas are rooted in how we learn naturally through practical work and contact within the community of others. We can only truly want to learn something if we can see that there’s some practical use for it. If we know that learning a particular something is in any way relevant to us then we will, quite naturally, want to know more about it. Much of her work with drama is about putting children into imagined situations that demanded solutions to an immediate problem and then getting them to apply what they already know and research what they ‘need to know’ to solve that problem. Helping children to “discover”, rather than simply ‘telling’ is the key. Tell a child that red and yellow make orange, they are likely to forget it, but give them red and yellow to paint with so they discover orange, they will most certainly remember it. One of her tools for teaching she called ‘The Mantle of the Expert’.
The Mantle of the Expert is a dramatic-inquiry approach to teaching and learning. The concept is to create an environment that allows the learners to do all their curriculum work as if they were a community of experts. They might be investigating archaeologists excavating a roman villa, or biologists in a laboratory. They might be architects planning a housing estate or doctors running a hospital. Whatever the theme or area of learning the children take on the behavior of ‘experts’ and as such work from a specific point of view as they explore their learning. Implicit in the work is the need for the children to take on special responsibilities, language needs and social behaviours of the expert. This is not about children performing a play, they are simply being asked to agree, for a short while, to imagine themselves as a group of scientists, explorers or whoever, with specific jobs and responsibilities. Through activities and tasks, the children gradually take on the same kinds of responsibilities, problems and challenges that real archaeologists or scientists might do in the real world.
To use one of our own example, a group of schools asked Claque to create a role play around the subject of refugees and asylum seekers. We put the children in the role of police investigating a reported crime perpetrated against a reputed “refugee woman”. The woman herself had fled the scene and all we had as a frame of reference were the belongings she’d left behind. In teams the children sifted through the material in order to get some picture of who the woman was, and where she came from. They found, personal and official letters, photographs, maps, a diary and personal treasured objects. An essential part of the planning of these in role sessions is that information is on hand to be discovered.
The woman was later found and brought before the children for questioning. Because of the children’s background knowledge of her they were able to focus their questions purposefully. As police they had to write a report about what they thought should happen to the woman and what our responsibilities were to her if any? They had to consider issues such as whether she qualified for asylum. This brought up other areas about her general welfare and the implications financially, culturally and socially. Their talk, investigation and interviewing developed as though they were police – their vocabulary and need for knowledge increased.
To give children the Mantle of the Expert there always needs to be a task or enterprise (A factory to be run, a crime to be solved, a battle to be won, an escape plan to be executed) and there always needs to be a client who needs help with the task being done (The purchasers of factory goods, the patients in the hospital, the high command on board a ship). The emphasis is on what tasks the children need to do to serve the needs of the clients and make the enterprise a success.
The process significantly changes the usual dynamic of education. As teachers we step back from the usual ‘teaching’ role of being the fount of all knowledge, ‘the one who tells’. And begin to share with the class the responsibility for the quality of work. ‘We’ together, run the enterprise and, as in real-life, it’s based in action and processes; thus it generates a range of different tasks: talking, listening, writing, speaking, making, designing, planning, measuring, weighing, etc. These tasks are channeled by the adult towards the requirements of the school curriculum. It brings together different areas of the curriculum, rather than trying to teach them separately, because, in practice life is not divided into subjects in the way schools seem to insist they are.
Through the Mantle of the expert and the use of dramatic inquiry we can develop the skills, and acquire the knowledge demanded by any area of the school curriculum but put it into a context. Through drama we can see purpose in what we learn and put our knowledge, skills and ability to find out into to immediate use. Helping young people develop ownership over their enterprise is also extremely motivational. Children become passionate about their quest for knowledge when they recognize it has something to do with them. Not only that - because it is ‘drama’ based and involves the whole community of the classroom working together it develops co-operation, invention, adaptability, creativity, risk and empathy, qualities looked for among employers in the modern world.
One Response to Mantle of the Expert
Patrena Russell says: comment-author .vcard January 16, 2012 at 12:41 am .comment-meta .commentmetadata
This is an interesting peace of in formation. I did not no anything about Dr. Dorothy Heathcote until last week when l was asked to write an essay on her. I am amazed at the wonderful things she has done and how she has influence many lives. I WISH TO KNOW MORE ABOUT HER.