Being an Artistic Director is sometimes like being an archeologist; you have to get down in the dirt and dig deep to discover treasure. I first stumbled upon a transcript of Colin Spencer's Spitting Image in a shadowy corner of a dusty theatre archive at the Victoria and Albert Museum after months of searching high and low across London (OK- I'm building the theatrical tension here a bit). I knew there and then that we had to revive this play for the twenty-first century, and I knew exactly who should direct it.
Gareth and I met way back in 2008. I was cutting my teeth as a director and producer at the White Bear Theatre Club and put a call-out online for a casting director. Gareth, a professional actor, was the only person to respond. We met and he waxed lyrical about ethical casting, about how we could make things better for actors in small fringe theatres with even smaller budgets. We got on like a house on fire from the word go.
I think a huge part of what drew us together was a love of those post-war plays that ran the risk of being forgotten. There's a whole host of really exciting pieces out there; often never published and always overlooked in favour of your Pinter's and your Beckett's and your Orton's/Osborne's. Never one to do what everyone else is doing, I made it my mission to get these plays back on a stage, back in the public consciousness and back under an audience's skin.
Gareth was a frequent and important collaborator, his many and varied talents seemingly limitless. After our casting adventure, He directed The Backroom and went on to design the costumes for my production of Daniel's Wright's Studies for A Portrait, which enjoyed a transfer to the Oval House Theatre. As part of the Edward Bond retrospective season
at The Cock Tavern Theatre, he directed the UK premiere of Olly's Prison. It seemed only right and proper that should be the one to direct the first ever revival of the UKs' first ever openly gay play.
Spitting Image is the play that changed everything. It was the first time that homosexuality had been portrayed in a natural, joyful, positive way on stage, and posited the idea that same-sex couples could not only be parents, but be tender, loving and committed parents. In the late sixties, homosexuality was decriminalised, theatre censorship was abolished and Colin Spencer was free to pick up his pen and write whatever he wanted without fear of retribution. There is no doubt it paved the way for great gay dramas of the last 50 years, A Beautiful Thing, Angels in America and Any Human Heart to name but a few.
When it was first staged in 1969, it was met with acclaim and outrage in equal measure. Despite a high profile West End transfer, it was considered unfit for publication and consigned to the annals of history, until I tracked it down to the aforementioned dusty archive on a grey day in February (again with the theatrics; we are shameless dramatic at the King's Head), It's truly thrilling that my old friend and I, along with a heroic band of actors and creatives, are on the cusp of restoring this funny, thought provoking classic to its rightful place; on a Saturday stage, in front of an audience...
Spitting image is at King's Head Theatre until 27 August: www.kingsheadtheatre.com
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