Rix of the trade

Mark Fisher talks to knighted farceur Lord Brian Rix about the

fine art of touring.

lfthere is a pun on the word “farce'. you can bet that Brian Rix has thought of it already. His first book was called My Farce front my Elbow, his next one will be Life in the Farce Lane and now, in his 70th year, he is touring a small-scale platform show with his wife, Elspet Gray (Dr Finlay's mother in the new

series). called Tour de Farce.

But don't be misled. This popular history oftheatre. reworked by Rix junior. Jonathan, from his father’s book. places the emphasis on the tour rather than the farce. “It’s full of detail and amusing anecdotes,’ says Rix. “There’s a lot of factual detail about the old touring circuit Howard and Wyndham‘s. which started up in Scotland, and Stoll Moss and it‘s about the 70-odd theatres and their history. My own personal experience is mixed in as well. it goes from Thespis right the way through to Kenneth Branagh.‘

“It’s a good two hours of entertainment, continues. “It's informative. funny and it gives people a chance to ask questions and find out more about the theatre, telly or even the House of Lords. A bloke did come in the other day and when it came to

the question-and-answer session he said.

by mistake. I thought I was coming to see a play. but

l‘ve enjoyed it enormously .

With a stage career stretching back half a century.


at .e l

at" 9;

l‘m here

lord Rix‘keeps his trousers on for a popular history of touring.

Rix has found himself almost by accident something of an authority on British theatre. “With this show. and studying the history of farce for my next book. it's made me a theatrical historian manque,‘ he says. “i know more about the theatre now than most.‘ Neither has his interest waned. He talks about I’arr'lty Towers or the new Terry Johnson play running in London with the same enthusiasm as the Ray Cooneys of his generation or the Pincros of the

| generation before. He does believe. however, that the

heyday of farce might have passed. “I think present day farce has relied too long on bedroom farce and a lot ofthe original satirical side has gone. The political content has changed to sexual content and it's gone on too long. There are young people trying. like Sandy Toksvig who has written two farces ~ my daughter was in one of them called The Pocket Dream which did {rightfully well. She was trying to change the face of farce.‘

Rix's first big success was a production of Reluctant Heroes. an army farce by Colin Morris which went into the Whitehall Theatre in 1950 and stayed there for four years. The four farces that followed. including two by Ray Cooney. enjoyed a combined run that exceeded the ten-year record for continuous presentation of farce set by the Aldwich Theatre in the 1920s. But as Rix points out. what really sealed the company‘s reputation was its television work. “i only did eleven farces on stage in 27 years.‘ he says. “But l did over 75 on telly for one night each. That’s what made us what we were.‘

“i think present day farce has relied too long on bedroom farce and a lot of the original satirical side has gone.’

He left the stage in l98t) to work full-time for the mental health charity MEN'CAP and, since being elevated to Chairman in 1087. has concentrated on thing this fourth book is just about ready for the

printers and might be adapted for television). He

recently resigned from his post of Chairman ofthe E Drama Panel on the then .-'\r1s ('ouneil of Great lit Ltain in protest at funding cuts and continues to make appearances in the House of lords. “I had a ' film on the other day that I made in |‘)5‘) and when l , went to the House of Lords the next day. at least half a dozen oftheir Lordships came up and said “"00le we did enjoy that film.” it was made in black and white and cost £65,000!‘ Tour de l’at't'e. (7tttttltet'ttattltl '/'/teatre. 'l‘ltttt's 26 May.

less than


“25 per cent of all reported violent crime is domestic.’ like the stark statistics, With Respect, the latest offering from Big Stramash theatre company, ‘doesn’t mince its words’ - according to company actress Wendy Seager.

With Respect is the theatrical tentacle of the pioneering Zero Tolerance campaign, designed to raise public awareness of male violence against women and children. Intenser volatile and an emotional minefield in terms of subject matter, the final script by Deirdre Heddon is based upon the personal testimonies of seven abused women who participated in a series of drama workshops run in conjunction with Women’s Aid and Big Shanash.

For Seager, who turned down a fistful of more lucrative and glamorous roles after winning the 1994 Best Actress Sony Radio Award, the uncompromising script was a real challenge to translate into a piece of theatre. ‘It deals with the subject matter in bold straight-forward terms, with a historical perspective that is

Big Stramash: emotional look at abuse through the ages

.‘l. he.

quite shocking,’ she says, referring to the19th century case of a Scottish teenage girl being subjected to a clitoridectomy in order to ‘cure’ her moodiness. This case is one of three historical flashbacks incorporated into the first half of the production that looks at abuse through the ages. ‘The second half focuses on one

abused woman’s case, following her journey from denial of the situation to admitting that she’s being abused, to finally doing something about it.’

Despite being in the heavy-weight league of serious subject matter, the production adds ‘a touch of black comedy’ to the sensitive portrayal and drives home the very positive and affirming message, echoed after every scene, that ‘women will continue to fightback’.

In terms of back-up, the company has organised the presence of a Women’s Aid representative at every performance, post-show discussions with members of the cast and a slew of literature for those who may want support or help. ‘We would like to think it is something the women can be proud of,’ says Seager.

With Respect is also part of the week-long Hera Theatre event from 20—28 May, focusing on the lives and achievements of women, at The Hetherbow Theatre, Edinburgh. (Ann Donald)

With Respect, on tour.

Tire List 20 May ~-2 June 1994 53