The Bradford Art College Theatre Group

In summer 2008, our flagship alumni exhibition 175 Heroes provided a refreshing reminder of Albert Hunt, the College’s legendary Happenings Officer and Director of Complimentary Studies and Film/Theatre/TV, and theatre critic of New Society. You can read Albert's exhibition profile online. We are delighted that we can now reveal more of the adventures, international acclaim and extravagant reviews attracted by the avant-garde theatre group he founded, which was at the cutting edge of experimental theatre.

The group came together as a result of the experimental work done in Complementary Studies at the Regional College of Art, Bradford (now Bradford School of Arts & Media). This work was built around the idea of learning through the creation of dramatic situations. The department staged a Russian Revolution in the streets of Bradford, invented a religion, and presented a day at the National Film Theatre in London, in which films were seen through the eyes of an alien intelligence.

Of the large number of students who took part in these events, a smaller group became committed to the idea of creating and performing their own shows. The core of this group worked together from 1968 until 1975, sponsored by the Gulbenkian Foundation, the Arts Council and Yorkshire Arts Association.

The group worked together as a collective; putting shows together from material researched by the actors, under the direction of Albert Hunt. The group’s members were John Booth, Jacqui Crone, Keith Knowles, Roger Simcox, Ian Taylor, Chris Vine and John Wood. Their productions, which were thought-provoking and highly politicised, included:

Move Over Jehovah (1968)Move Over Jehovah

Move Over Jehovah was commissioned by the National Association of Mental Health for the seventh World Congress of Mental Health in London. Adrian Mitchell worked with the group on songs and scripts. The play showed a maniac Old Testament God in a control tower, and a group of Israelites trying to work out, though psycho-drama, and understanding of His actions.

One reviewer commented, “The audience if 2000 mental health workers was captured and held for three hours by the consistently humorous and dialogue and action, and the ever expanding meaning. The impact of the ideas was enormous. The impact of the drama in theatrical terms was equally enormous. On a unique occasion, theatre was a force effecting positive and constructive social change.”

The Destruction of DresdenThe Destruction of Dresden or A Carnival for St Valentine’s Eve (1968)

A child’s structure is built out of cardboard boxes. Slides of the destruction of Dresden are flashed on to the structure, which is then carefully and methodically destroyed. A girl sings, “Tomorrow is St Valentine’s Day …”

This short play, which involved mixed media and chance, was first performed in Bradford on the 23rd anniversary of the air raid on 13th – 14th February 1945. It was performed exactly a year later at the Institute of Contemporary Arts in London (ICA), and was also presented in schools and at the NUS drama festival.

Looking Forward to 1942: The Second World War Hot Gospel Show (1969) Looking Forward to 1942

Looking Forward to 1942: The Second World War Hot Gospel Show The show, which was created out of research into living in wartime, and a project of the Pentecostal Movement, takes the form of a Pentecostal gospel meeting, with hot gospel songs, prayers, and the testimonies of Neville Chamberlain, Adolf Eichmann and Bomber Harris. During each performance, Churchill paints a new, original picture. At the end, the audience is invited to believe.

Looking Forward to 1942 was performed around England, in Amsterdam, at Wroclaw in Poland and took all the major awards at the Zagreb International Festival of Student Theatre in 1969.

“It was what anyone would want: it had a totally new quality, open and warm. It had character: droll, blunt and independent. This is the only play that has grown out of the students’ own research and experience.”
Merete Bates, The Guardian

John Ford's Cuban Missile CrososJohn Ford’s Cuban Missile Crisis (1970)

This show presented the story of the 1963 Cuban Missile Crisis as if it was a movie directed by John Ford, with henry Fonda as John F Kennedy, Lee Marvin as Khrushchev, and Groucho Marx as Batista. It was very widely performed, notably at the Open Space and at the Oxford Playhouse in London; in Amsterdam and Rotterdam; at the Nancy Festival and at Zagreb, where, for a second year in succession, the group won the awards for the best show and the best performance. The script, with a preface by Albert Hunt, was published by Eyre Methuen in 1972.

“Superb in form, detail and accomplishment”
Nicholas de Jongh, The Guardian

“The show that gave the rest of the students a reason for going to the NUS Festival in Southampton.”
Time Out

“A remarkable thing is happening at the Open Space …”
Harold Hobson, Sunday Times

James Harold Wilson Sinks the Bismarck (1971)Jason Harold Wilson

This show depicted James Harold Wilson’s glorious advance backwards to Dunkirk, his encounters with the Chairman of the Bank of England (“Herr Wilson, this bomb will go off at any moment”), and the sad fate of George Brown (“I did it my way).

It was successfully performed at the Edinburgh Fringe, in Wroclaw, the NUS Drama Festival and a celebration in Leeds of the victory of the miners.
“At the Pool there are flashed of beautiful satirical and surreal invention: Wilson leads the troops out to battle in ’64 and ’66 and they wait nervously for the first shots; Barbara Castle strides through the play as the world’s nurse.”
Nicholas de Jongh, The Guardian

The Union Pacific at the SerpentineThe Union Pacific at the Serpentine (1972)

This was a ten-day event, during which the Union Pacific Railway was built, three times a day, in the Serpentine Gallery, Hyde Park: with two theatre productions; a building the railway game; a western bar complete with piano, dancing girls and a Native American in a cage.

The event mixed visuals and theatre in an original way, and turned a gallery into a centre of popular entertainment. Around 20,000 people visited the show.

“This is like having a Belsen stall at a bakery display, and I came away feeling uncomfortable.”
Nigel Gosling, The Observer

The Passion of Adolf Hitler (1972)The Passion of Adolf Hitler

The show depicted the Oberammergau Passion Play, performed by Adolf Hitler, playing the part of the Messiah. It was performed in Bradford, toured Poland, and played for ten days at the Edinburgh Fringe.

“… the best work yet by Albert Hunt’s Bradford College of Art Theatre Group. It is starker, harder, more elemental than earlier work …”
Merete Bates, The Guardian

“… a thoroughly nasty play, full of cynicism … performed with great vitality.”
The Scotsman

Where are they now?

Ian Taylor retired from College a few years ago, after inspiring countless students on the Art Foundation programme. He continues to create and to exhibit with abandon!

Chris Vine is a successful artist.

Roger Simcox works for Bradford Council, attracting investment to the city.

If you can tell us about John Booth, Jacqui Crone, Keith Knowles, and John Wood, we would love to know.