BEFORE UGANDA - DISCOVERY AND PLANNING

aspects

ray is the heart of me
greg the spirit
rg gregory the notice saying
private keep out
raymond george gregory
is the barbed skin

what a long way home
from my birth


In my three quarters of a century I have
lived in fifty houses (ten of them as an evacuee during the war)
had two partners (once married and once tut-tutted by the state)
had six children (one died at thirteen days)
suffered rheumatic fever three times (at eight, ten and nineteen)
had a burst blood-vessel close to the brain (in Uganda)
been a teacher for nineteen years (unintentionally)
been a very very poor swimmer and useless on a horse
written prolifically but suffer from publisher's cramp
been accused of being a puritan, a Presbyterian and
(by my youngest son)
a bastard, a hypocrite and pathetic
(well when I was seven
I did throw my mother's face-powder and snocreme away)
been an inventor of at least four board-games
(only one of which reached the playing stage)
been sacked by one set of School Governors
and told to serve out my notice by Margaret Thatcher
walked twice (with two others) from Bournemouth to Southampton
during the war for a sixpenny bet and then once more
as a celebration nearly sixty years later
been in charge of a squad guarding a special carriage on a train
from Berlin to the West in 1948 with instructions to shoot
any Russian that came too close
then was nearly arrested as a deserter on my return to barracks
because they thought I'd overstayed my leave

I once had my hand read
by a local (psychically-gifted) woman
she said
you have energy coming up out of all your finger-tips
you'd be better off if it all came up out of one


When I named the company
I started in Dorset in 1972
WORD AND ACTION
I thought I was merely describing its activities
I was also naming
the polarities that have pressured me apart all my life


whether to be or to do


but I wanted to be
spiritually psychologically philosophically
politically socially
dramatically poetically
intellectually feelingly intuitively (sensationally)
sexually lovingly domestically
practically
involved in life
but not having them put into a sack
and having to fight each other for space
and the right to breathe
at times I have failed with each one
individually/collectively
reducing the sum of my fulfilment
to a hodge-podge of the lot

after such a succulent tastery
of this mouth-watering past-ery
this lip-licking nibblery
this unashamed dribblery
very soon now (bold as brassery)
comes the inevitable sales-gassery…..

wander which way you willery
through rgg's potent distillery
so much to sip in this brewery
of one man's lifetime's reviewery
of spirits that make up his armoury
their range perception (and charmery!)
so now with delight or with mockery
let your mouse run up the clockery
dock first (if you like) before dickory
nuff said - get on with the clickery

4.

I have wanted to give my lifetime
to building a cathedral to the ordinary human spirit
THE CATHEDRAL OF OHS

(the richest combination I could imagine of word and action)
I have been building it badly - each part of it is incomplete
I vary between feeling disparate and desperate
see this website as a potpourri of fragments
that (as Eliot might have said) I have shored against my ruin

cathedral of the ordinary human spirit
CATHEDRAL OF OHS
(bit like IHS)
cathedral of rounds
the round
the only form that genuinely speaks
of the ordinary human spirit
cathedral of oh!s
oh! - wonder and awe
oh! - dismay and disappointment
oh? - curiosity/uncertainty
oh! - sudden pain
oh! - enlightenment
oh! - failure


so in the beginning (let us say) was this

(walking through Southampton Common
on a full-bellied sunlit evening one late Summer):

Inner Voice: You are to be a playwright
   
Me: A playwright?
I don't know anything about playwriting
   
Inner Voice: Well, it's going to take a long time, then, isn't it!

well - no - before that

born face downwards with a bleeding crown
as a child scatter-brained cheeky
morose sulky moral
a stealer of sixpence and apples
a breaker of windows
a joker too serious
dreamer and sufferer of migraine
rheumatic fever my scourge
a secret romantic
a brain on a stick
early riser
knowing from the start
I had something important to do with my life
something something
(but with no great gift that I could guess at)
early stories
teenage detective novel
(bag of poison gas beneath the carpet)
running a private concert or two
with home-made sketches
more stories - a boy
wakes up with the world pink
his day of dying
and then some poems including
one in blank verse celebrating the charge of horses
at Agincourt in Olivier's film-version of Henry Vth
and another (in forty or so quatrains) praising the heroics
of the soldiers at Arnheim from the film Theirs is the Glory
and a translation from a Spanish poem into English
that so impressed my Spanish master he forewent
his siestas during afternoon lessons for the next month -

but then in the beginning (at last)

southampton seventeen

one teenage summer end of war
i walked from school down the straight town road
wrestling with problematic futures

westward the low sun melted on the grass
but i mind-locked in undergrowth and bracken
the uselessness of school
myself a hollow shell
(no music of a wind for outer ears to dream by)

but as i walked
the sun's good grace possessed me
shutters fell open
my shoulders rhymed
clarity consumed my tangled spaces

within that shallow moment
i knew the dream to graft my life upon
whatever else i did i would write plays

a seed in granite searched around for roots

i reached the town
my eyes on the level with the civic centre clock

Me: A playwright?
I don't know anything about playwriting
   
Inner Voice: Well, it's going to take a long time, then, isn't it!

and what then?

the army -
(attacked by rheumatic fever for the third time)
Education Corps - in Germany
wrote poems for The Goose Girl in Göttingen
and a long long short story about a voluptuous girl called Gretchen
though I ended up talking of marrying one called Sonia
a play for illiterate soldiers in Bielefeld

After demob more stories (getting weirder)
and poems
three accepted for publication the week I started at University)

6.


but no plays?

I did join an amateur company
and played Victor in Coward's Private Lives

not much for four years

no - but I was thinking about it a lot

and when I went to King's London to study the King's English
I did direct Chekov's The Proposal for a One-Act Play Festival, came first
and went on to direct the 1950 Commemoration Play,
(The Witch of Edmonton by Ford Rowley, Dekker etc)
and I business-managed and then edited the College Magazine
(helped change its name to Lucifer)

in a college biased towards theology?

we were thinking of Lucifer the Morning Star

University and poetry didn't mix for me
but I did rouse myself in my final year
to enter a competition
subject - a saint
I called mine Unholy Saint with Judas as its hero
(it was disqualified)

8.

I left London - returned to Southampton
got married and took a job as a Waterworks Labourer
and here began the long (aesthetic) revolt
from which I am still suffering fifty years on


THE BIG CONUNDRUM

How could I write plays for a theatre
I knew so little about

well I'd read a lot of Shakespeare
acted once in a Marlow extract
knew all about the Jacobeans
had read Shaw until he was coming out of my ears
had seen my fair share of plays and operas
in Southampton Germany and London
had a kind of yearning for a modern poetic drama
Eliot Auden-Isherwood Christopher Fry and others
couldn't requite

where there should have been keenness
there was an emptiness
if this was theatre I wanted something else
my upbringing (for all its ignorance)
was at odds with the theatre (for all its breeding)
its encasement of we have the secrets
you out there - in the dark - can't be allowed
to get your fingers on
your sole job is to admire
and clap in all the right places

I set up my own (amateur) theatre group
to find out why - to discover
what the acting world would be like
outside the proscenium arch

so from there to a total cock-up
to four years of doing it the hard way

10.

The fifties was a time of necrophiliac toryism
(Churchill in the state of Poe's M. Valdemar for much of the time)
but it set up the sixties in a daft sort of way
Eden's Suez campaign the invasion of Hungary
the growing nuclear fear
educational dissatisfactions
the breakthrough in theatre of the working-class voice
(radical content - reactionary form)
the heated fiascos of the cold war
all these - with their anxieties and paradoxes -
ruffled old feathers and sprouted new ones

I made a good labourer but couldn't work in the evenings
(Rostrum rehearsals)
not good
married with a child on the way - labourer's wage too little
not good
so became a temporary teacher - stayed for nineteen years
not good (or so I thought)

In the fifties (apart from Rostrum Theatre
and having three children)
I read and read and read
every book I could find on theatre staging
the history of theatre
the nature of acting and functions of playwriting
those trying to push the boat out from the well-worked shore


enter Ron James
Hampshire Drama Adviser from 1956 on
who brought along with him
improvisational practices and spontaneous drama
the Schools' Drama and Children's Theatre movements
and his way in already to the Open Stage

enter Brian Way
with his Children's Theatre touring companies
bringing the first theatre-in-the-round performances I saw

and enter Stephen Joseph
(with his Studio Theatre from Scarborough
which came to Southampton twice in the late fifties)
who told me by postcard that he had no panacea
but who laid the meaning of the Round out clearly for me
and gave me an understanding of theatre form
in symbolic terms
the foundation of my present day convictions

 

Stephen Joseph died in 1967 from hepatitis at the age of 46,
having moved aside from being a Theatre Director to becoming
a Lecturer in Theatre -the son of Michael Joseph (the publisher)
and Hermione Gingold (the actress)
and a Naval Officer during the war
he was one of the first people
to take the Round seriously in this country
and the first to risk establishing it
at a professional adult level

I heard him ask the question:
Why must authorities stand with their back to a wall?
his answer to which was:
So nobody can knife them from behind


Out of which simple (symbolic) fact
the whole of the implications
of theatre (assembly) shape
can be deduced!

My life's work stands upon that base
Much of my polemical writing has worried away
at the consequences of those throw-off lines
for one such attempt to get infinity into a pint pot
click to scratchings from a deep round pit (1999)

12.


My plan not to stay long as a teacher
was scuppered in 1958
when I accepted a Head of English appointment
at a new school (a reorganised old one)
in an old building and a hall with no stage
and I was off -
I soon tired of the standard curriculum
devised one based on
writing reading doing (and saying) and listening
I was already into learning not teaching
into the overriding importance
of the creative essence in people
as the best basis for a genuine education
of the marrying of poetry and drama
(language and movement
word and action)
whatever else I had to do as an English teacher
these were the heart of me



POETRY

There was a growing range of good poetry books for use in schools, but what writing was done still clung to the primacy of rhyme, which, from children's pens, could rarely climb above doggerel. And mostly, attention was given to the ability to handle the essay (again usually a deadly exercise).

In Winterslow, a village close to Salisbury, a Headteacher named Marshall (Sybil? Joy? - either an appropriate name) invented Intensive Writing, a one-line-per- thought style of composition, by which children were encouraged to look intensively at familiar objects and see them in a new light. Each line stood for itself and did not have to link with lines before or after. Each line was a fresh look, recorded with directness and precision. The results were staggering in their originality.

For me, it was an eye-opening technique of immense importance. I adapted the process, working from odd photographs, abstract paintings (even improvised squiggles and blobs of mixed colours), short pieces of music, invented sounds, found objects, or even a short burst of sensational activity, trying all the time to get the children to come at language in a different way.

The joy of the method was that it fostered in children a love of their own language.

I remember only one example (written as one line by a boy who could hardly spell one word right) but it reads best as a three-liner:

the wind
bounced down the road
like a hat

 

DRAMA

I took (to begin) a lot from Ron James, and from courses with others that he arranged. I loved the awkwardnesses and hesitations, the flows and delights of children improvising in groups; the inventiveness and wit that came out of spontaneously set-up situations.

I developed my own ideas on dance drama - groups working with music, devising their own movements spontaneously, with brief periods for discussion before going back to the music again.

Out of this came the building game - individuals working separately to begin, using music, or sounds, or actions, then linking with another, joining their initial pieces with some agreed bridging activity; then twos becoming fours, fours eights etc - but with the initial impulses to be kept throughout.

Other games, the making and unmaking of statues, the use of objects as starting points for a quick play - all the time letting the group activity be felt as the sum of the contributions of all its members.

Much emphasis on concentration and silence, of sensing the body as a busy world of its own where each muscle could be capable of independent and meaningful movement; but then the emerging out of self-consideration into an awareness of others and their equal contribution to the value of the moment

Occasionally drama became theatre, when group improvisations were shown to each other - but the essence of drama was in the discovery that the shared ordinariness of each person contained such diverse qualities

poetry is my search to be myself
drama is my search to understand you
they have become the same search

poetry the still centre
of drama the moving mass

poetry the light within the seed
drama the light watching the seed become flower

poetry is what drama grows out of
drama is what poetry is squeezed from

poetry the microscope
drama the telescope

poetry reduces all substance to essence
drama takes essence and makes it human

poetry can become a stream
drama must always be flesh

the problem of drama
is how to give flesh the crystal properties of water
the problem of poetry
is how to turn water into flesh

 

Outside the lesson (and my strict role of Head of English)
between 1958 and 1965
I was involved in:
Wyvern School Theatre Club
Wyvern Youth Theatre Club
Eastleigh Theatre-in-the-Round
Eastleigh Children's Theatre Group
Hampshire Experimental Drama Group
Eastleigh Children's Drama Association

Before this period
I had already written seven plays
(four of them performed - three not)
as I struggled to find a form I could happily write for
now - with the hall with no fixed stage -
I wrote
(for the school)
a verse accompaniment to Frederick and the Enchantress
(a dance-drama to Sibellius' Second Symphony
adapting a Grimms' story - The King of the Golden Mountain)


14.


This was a good time for playwriting
(these plays written between 1959 and 1964
all for performance in-the-round)

The Tragedy of the White King -
a dance-drama to words not music
with 32 chess-set characters
(used as main course material by Stephen Joseph
at Burton Manor on The Wirral - 1961)

The Monster
(episodic play set on a mountain)

The Woman
(a psychically-gifted old woman
causes trouble between desert tribes)

The Trial of Sarah Spring
(Spring is prosecuted for killing Winter)

Volcano
(Women and girls shipwrecked on a volcanic island)
(for the Youth Club)

Dreamer
(a play originally for 18 girls and one boy -
an adopted girl seeks to find her true parents)

(for the Children's Theatre Group)
A Play to Pay the Rent
(for Primary Schools - encompassing audience participation)

(for the Experimental Drama Group)
Death at the New Year
(a text containing dialogue commentary poems and choral passages
satirising the current attitude to the death penalty)
The production was not completed
but the play was given three performances
by Stephen Joseph's Studio Theatre Scarborough in 1962)

(for Eastleigh Theatre-in-the-Round)
Sex-Barrier
(Four characters in search for the right actor
an experimental text that has to be performed to be understood)

All these plays were written in verse
and each was concerned not simply with its plot
but also with a formalised sense of staging

I directed these and other plays for most of the groups
and took part as an actor in the adult productions

more clickery needed here
for EXTRACTS from some of these plays

16


(The Eastleigh Schools' Drama Association
set up an Open-Stage Exhibition
which gathered exhibits from many parts of the world
including material from major Soviet productions)

In that period the Nuclear Bomb cast its increasing shadow
The Cuba Crisis threatened to destroy the world
Kennedy was assassinated and Skopje was destroyed by an earthquake
Cultures were beginning to loosen up
(The coming of Youth Culture kidded everyone
the world would be a better place)
and the Age of Sentimentality was let off its leash by the Beatles


I had linked Stephen Joseph's symbolic sense
(of the Proscenium Stage as a Renaissance structure)
with Descartes' I think: therefore I am
and saw we were about to move into a post-Renaissance age
where the relationship between head and body had to change
The Victorian Age had been a mountain pinnacle
from which the twentieth century was a downward slide
we were on our way to becoming scree
(a necessary state
before the foothills of a new mountain
could begin to be glimpsed)

Modernism (said Bradbury)
was a condition that existed between 1870 and the 1930s
Post-modernism took some time to catch on
The Age of Anxiety (really a bit of an Age)
gave way to the Woodworm Age
(the old had to be nibbled away)
and now we are all scree
all seemingly equally valueless
in the large assessment of things
but we have to get to a state of nothing counts
before anyone can start counting again

The poetry I was writing
was coming up out of its dark self
there was a new energy for language
but a social dissatisfaction that was getting deeper
being a teacher not an actor was a boon
granting an offbeat freedom worth a mint
but society was still creaking with the old arse-aches
and an inch beneath the surface
not an inch could happily be moved

I was getting poems into a few magazines
a restive self was finding its kind of language

18

In 1964 the restlessness exploded
I was at the end of a tether
Resigned my post - took a term off
Wrote book with Ron James
Imaginative Speech and Writing
a relaxed workbook for primary schools
on the transition from sounds to words
(I provided the back-up poems)
A piece (you might say) of modest cliquery

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