The LINDSAY KEMP section of this website contains a biography of Lindsay Kemp’s life and art, plus a portrait of the companies he created.
This section, however, intends to present Lindsay Kemp as a creator of shows, i.e. to help readers to understand what his productions consisted of and how they evolved.
Its title is “Shows 1962 – 2018”, but in a very real sense his invention and staging of shows genuinely had its roots in childhood, in the Air Raid Shelters and back streets of South Shields, where from the age of roughly seven he persistently persuaded local children to allow themselves to be directed – and bossed about–by him in carefully prepared “performances”, mostly based on stories from books or from films his mother had recently taken him to see.
He would always play the leading role, whether male or female. Adults had to pay to watch.
He never doubted for an instant, at any age, that performing and creating shows was what he was going to do.
And for the rest of his life, he never really stopped inventing and planning storytelling theatrical entertainments… at school, in adolescence, while studying ballet and modern dance and hunting for jobs in his first years in London. Gradually, from the age of 20 (i.e. as the late 1950s flowed into the early 1960s), he began to accumulate an extremely varied range of performing experience: including small group dance programmes, some “arty”, as he described them (e.g.culturally ambitious groups such as those of Hilde Holger or Valerie Hovinden), some more frivolous, influenced by variety shows, some more ballet-orientated.
There were also many (mostly short-lived) jobs in Christmas Pantomime (Aladdin and others) or Musical Chorus-lines–including The Larry Parnes Extravaganza, Joie de Vivre andOklahoma. And wherever he worked with companies he would gather others from the cast to createpieces for partiesor charities or cabaret (also developing his own solo numbers)… light entertainment mostly, but frequently with unexpected touches.
He also worked in nightclubs, some relatively “straight”, but often including tap-dancing, striptease, burlesque or drag acts, which he would choreograph and/or appear in. Throughout his career, it came naturally and enthusiastically to him to include varyingly explicit erotic elements in his creations. With Jack Birkett and Bob Anthony, in the early sixties he frequently directed and choreographed numerous burlesque acts, creating stripper-cum-dance acts, usually involving Jack, and revelling in the Soho of that period, where the ‘artistes’ ran from one club to another day and night, and between-time Lindsay created and rehearsed what he called “extremely arty erotic numbers” for them, or “avant-garde striptease”… making friends with many of the girls. By and large, he said, the public at the Soho shows seemed happy with the numbers and their mix of surrealism, sex and humour. All excellent show-creation practice! Most of the time, all this was extremely poorly paid, but he loved doing it. As he used to say years later: “However broke I was back then, I never doubted that one day – somehow or other – I’d be successful!!”
In 1962, with two young dancing friends, Pat and Beverly, he began to find work in an act which he called The Trio Linzi.They worked up and down the country in clubs or crumbling provincial theatres, performing song and dance material inspired by successful shows, but creating and including their own numbers too, adding original and entertaining touches to popular material, sometimes in elegant clubs, sometimes between wrestling matches in Northern working men’s halls with rowdy audiences that had to be conquered and silenced.
The Trio Linzi also took Kemp on the first of his countless ‘international tours’, when it travelled to Liege, Brussels and Luxemburg in late 1962 and early 1963. The next few years – the Trio Linzi having disbanded – brought numerous varied dance and theatre experiences and on-and-off collaborations (at the Valery Hovenden Theatre Club, later The Little Theatre, and Church Halls and Night Clubs inside and outside London). In early 1964 he also did some teaching and performing work in Edinburgh (the first of many future Edinburgh experiences), and played the part of Mister Punch in an outdoor production in Glenrothes (a role he would return to, gloriously, much later).
Back in London, this period culminated in his most ambitious project yet: the creation of The Lindsay Kemp Dance Mime Company (or LKDMC), with sufficient backing to stage a show in London’s important Lyric Theatre Hammersmith. The show was named Illuminations, and involved a company of strong professional modern dancers (including John McDonald, Richard Morris, Sasha Lord, Dora Turner, Anna Price, Patrick Hurde, John Cunningham, Maria Pavlov, as well as Jack Birkett, The Incredible Orlando-to-be), plus composer/pianists Carl Christian and Clive Peterson. Liz Gill made costumes, the writer John Hammond provided narrative lyrics, and lighting was designed by John Spadbery…who managed and stage-managed Illuminations and who from 1974 would be Kemp’s all-important lighting designer for the next 20 years.
Lindsay directed this show, and performed in pieces he had partly written or adapted, including Oscar Wilde’s The Fisherman and his Soul, The Tinsel People (Commedia dell’Arte characters, with Lindsay as Pierrot), Orpheus, Patchwork, and 2 Lindsay solos, Pantomime and Burlesque 1900… the latter his surreal parody of a jaded burlesque stripper which, under many different titles, he would develop and perform occasionally for nearly20 years.
Illuminations opened at the old Lyric Theatre, Hammersmith, on May 10th 1965. Despite good reviews, it was not a box office success. But not long after, the LKDMC Company (in a reduced version with a reduced cast) performed in the Dublin Festival and in Cork.
On August 24 that year, in the old Traverse Theatre in Edinburgh, came the first version of a three-man show format featuring Lindsay, The Incredible Orlando and a musician, here with Vivian Stanshall as musician and poetry reader, and Letitia Stanford as Columbine. With many different titles and changes of content, this show would continue to “go on” for several subsequent decades. On that occasion the series of pieces was called Bubbles – A Pierrot show for grown-ups. In 1967, with the title Balloons a new version would be performed in Rome, at the Teatro Goldoni and – in fragments – in streets and piazzas.
Much of the same material and style would evolve and reappear with the title Clown’s Hour at the Little Theatre in London in August 1967 and in 1968 in the Edinburgh Festival (in this version the stage was pre-set showing all the placards with the names of the various numbers already visible, and all the characters’ costumes and props in full view.Later in Edinburgh briefly two experimental off springs, White Pantomime(1969) and Crimson Pantomime (1970) were developed…some of the numbers having been part of Pierrot in Turquoise (1967-68), with David Bowie.After that, this changeable format was usually called Turquoise Pantomime, or occasionally Clowns– always with Orlando, often with the brilliant Michael Garrett as musician, and from 1974 with David Haughton as the error-prone pianist – up until c. 1979. In passing, it is interesting to note just how special the concept of Pantomime was for Lindsay, especially in his early years: after all, seeing his first English traditional Christmas Pantomime as a child was what sparked off his love for every possible kind of theatre… and the Christmas Pantomime was total theatre, inspired by Commedia dell’Arte, with Harlequinades and ballet, Music Hall and clowning, cross-dressing and parody, direct rapport with the audience: all lifelong Kemp inspirations.
In his twenties, searching for his performing identity, he usually disliked being called a Mime, considering it too restrictive a category, whereas ‘Pantomime’ evoked the Greek and Roman Pantomimus, the Pierrot, Harlequin and Columbine Commedia archetypes…‘mythical’ forms that inspired him and left him free. He studied and became friends with Marcel Marceau, much admired Decroux and Jean Louis Barrault, and publically declared “I feel nearest to Debarau’s Pierrot” (perhaps influenced by Baudelaire), but his non-purist Mime was always only one aspect of his performances. His fidelity to his own very personal Pantomime concept would remain with him always, with or without the word… Flowers was subtitled “A Pantomime for Jean Genet”, and “Mr. Punch’s Pantomime” was performed well into the next century!
Some of the material in the stream of early many-named ‘Pantomime’ shows(The Lion Tamer, The Ball Dancer, The Knife Thrower, The Tailor and his Dummy) was developed (increasingly freely) from Marcel Marceau numbers.
Some (such as The Stripper, The Albatross and The Flower) were created entirely by Lindsay. Orlando displayed banners with the title of each new piece – like a hilariously jealous rival desperate to replace the lead performer – and belted out several furiously camp Burlesque songs, including a grotesque allusion to Marlene Dietrich singing ‘A Regular Man’ in The Blue Angel. Many of the pieces were based on distorted versions of Commedia dell’Arte figures, transported into a surreal comic circus cabaret. The basic style was at times not far from traditional mime, while also being a parody of traditional mime. It had no scenery, except for a battered wicker skip and the piano at one side, but it usually featured confetti and sawdust scattered on the floor, a motif Lindsay repeated for years as a token statement of circus-like poor-theatre, with a dash of colour left overfromsome unspecified celebration.
Fans and feather boas abounded… costumese volved, but mostly featuring a large padded puffed arms and thighs blue-green 17th century clown for the initial numbers in the Circus section, a bright red foppish ballet jacket top with red or white tights, white unitard with or without irregular knotted string webs for The Albatross and The Flower, and on to battered black talcum-stained tights and top with pink boa for the infamous The Stripper… who lazily stripped off a long series of invisible costumes.
Wigs too abounded (a lifelong passion).And hats. Orlando also wore traditional harlequin/clown gear for the banners and bickering in The Circus section, then Top hat and tails (plus fishnet stockings and high heels)as he sang A Regular Man, and thenin a tatty black leotard with a few sequins loosely attached as he danced Bye-bye Blackbird on point, with a battered yellow peak on the top of his head.
Most of the pieces began as underplayed comedy and slowly collapsed into anarchic tragicomedy. A recurring characteristic was the obsessive repetition of gesture, creating a surreal Theatre of the Absurd effect… in one piece, Aimez-vous Bach?, accompanied by a Bach Gavotte, as a snobbish ballet dancer, Lindsay mechanically executed an exercise involving tapping one extended foot on the floor for anything up to 60 or 70 times (with maximum audience contact and facial expressivity), before finally changing to the other foot, and so on… while the pianist was desperately imprisoned inside his infinitely repeating Gavotte.
Eventually this piece spiralled into a madly virtuoso mimical frenzy as the foppish danseur noble used his own intestines as a skipping rope and then frantically devoured them.
All the numbers were changeable over the years, and from night to night… Lindsay was always an incorrigible improviser. For at least 15 years, this Surreal Mime-Pantomime show was a recurrent, entertaining and relatively economical resource for Lindsay and Jack Birkett (billed as The Incredible Orlando), to dip into from time to time, to make ends meet… even when (as from c. 1968), the Kemp style had radically changed as he rode the waves of the Counter Culture.
Pierrot in Turquoise(1968) featured a Lindsay Pierrot-role and The Incredible Orlando as his rival, Harlequin, while Annie Stainer played Columbine and a youthful David Bowie –as a kind of narrator-figure called Cloud – played his guitar and sang some of his early songs (e.g. When I live my Dream), some written especially for the show (Threepenny Pierrot, Poor Harlequin, The Mirrorand Columbine).
Bowie and Kemp had met in August 1967 (after Bowie had seen a performance of Clown’s Hour at the Little Theatre). They devised this new show during the next few months, with Michael Garrett as a second more experimental composer on piano and effects… some numbers from Turquoise Pantomime were included.
The show opened in the Oxford Playhouse on December 28 and went on to be mounted and performed from 3 to 5 January 1968 in the Rosehill Theatre in Whitehaven, then from 5-16 March at the Mercury Theatre in London, and from 25-30 March at the Intimate Theatre in Palmer’s Green.
In early 1970 an adapted version was recorded by Scottish TV with the title The Looking Glass Murders, with dubious results, as can be seen today on Youtube.
Pierrot in Turquoise marked a more complex and many-layered development of the mime-clown-Commedia dell’Arte theme, drawing ona wider range of influences, including Cocteau, Ionesco and theavant-garde music and dance scenes of the time… plus an odd mix of early Bowie Pop with more abstract experimental music.
A note on music. One fundamental ingredient not theoretically included in purist mime but a vital protagonist of Lindsay’s personalised concept of Pantomime was music… indeed, his lifetime dancetheatre style could well be called Musical Pantomime, or Musical Theatre.
His musical inspirations were all infinitely variable and infinitely important to him, and deserve a chapter in themselves elsewhere, but here it should be noted that from the 1960s – probably stimulated by the jazz musicians frequented with Jack Birkett in Soho clubs, and the first accessible recordings of 1950s avant-garde composers being released – Lindsay became increasingly stimulated by new music. In 1967 in Rome he had mixed and worked with Italian avant-garde composers and performers, including Luciano Berio, Cathy Berberian, Egisto Macchi and Luigi Nono, and on his return to the UK he discovered John Cage, Stockhausen and the possibilities of electronic music in combining Rock’nRoll and avant-garde pulsations.
These inspirations soon worked their way into his creations, certainly from Illuminations onwards, with Carl Christian and Clive Peterson as composers, and certainly with the brilliant Michael Garrett, whose live music during years of collaboration on Turquoise Pantomime ranged from mildly to highly avant-garde, while also echoing Lindsay’s beloved Music Hall melodies. From almost the beginning, Andrew Wilson’s electronic music was crucial to the evolution of Flowers, either as a bridge between contrasting collages of recorded music, or played live on synthesiser during them: Lindsay loved performing to live music, because it granted him freedom to improvise…and wherever possible he made sure that his musicians followed him, and not vice versa! In 1969 he even called a show with Orlando and Michael Garret at the Mayfair Theatre in London In Concert!
As the counter culture blossomed during 1968, so did Lindsay’s performing activities, and through the summer of 1969, having discovered Jean Genet’s extraordinarily radical homoerotic novel Our Lady of the Flowers, he matured his ideas for the first version of Flowers. In later years Lindsay enjoyed recounting a series of comic anecdotes about the birth of Flowers… how he picked his flowers in Princes Street Gardens, i.e. chose the cast from handsome, muscular young men that fitted into a Genet-inspired world(actually the cast also included Jack Birkett, Annie Stainer and several other performers with experience). He also enjoyed telling the story of how the police busted the show looking for drugs (or nudity) during a strobe sequence, which the public applauded thinking it was part of the show, or the quirks of the amateur members of the cast, and so on. But he never talked much (later) about what the show had actually consisted of. When working on his unfinished autobiography in 2018, however, he did provide some surprisingly concise concrete information, such as… “The Rehearsals were bliss. The newcomers had to start from zero. They began with a class. Certainly not a dance class: more like a madness class, in laughter, ecstasy and agony. I had to teach them to abandon themselves and transform themselves.
Then we’d improvise my favourite scenes from the book, using music which I’d chosen from the piles of records beside my bed. I’d frequently surprise everyone by switching tracks from one day to the next… When the theatre space was more or less ready, we realised that the seating area was extremely small and the stage (on the floor) was tiny…
We built a primitive scaffolding structure, which supported a platform just over head-height that stretched across the stage. The upper area was used as Divine’s room, and the lower space accommodated the cemetery, a street, a café and several other somewhat undefined places. … The entrance to the theatre was through a large door at the back of the stage, so late comers became part of the show. … The production was rough, unpredictable and mostly improvised. We rarely had a full cast. Not being professional, the new-boys didn’t see why they should have to turn up to every performance. So the rest of us just got on with the show, performing along with imaginary characters.”
In terms of Lindsay’s stylistic development, here the important thing is to note that for the birth of what later became his most famous production, he abruptly and completely reshuffled his pack of performing influences: playful parody had so far always accompanied his use of ballet, dance, mime and variety cabaret styles, as he experimented with mixing them together, but here he abandoned all such formal categories and plunged into the creation of his first ever full-length show using a new “liberated stage language” based on experimentation and improvisation…truly, the irresistible irruption of Dionysus in his life.
Many of the cast had never performed before, and their often anarchic rehearsals alternated with them allusing shovels and pickaxes to demolish much of the long-abandoned Edinburgh Rock factory (“The place was a near ruin, littered with debris and dead birds”)and turn it into a primitive off-off avant-garde theatre venue: all symbols of radical renewal.
The new space, in Victoria Terrace, was named the Edinburgh Combination, and before the show had opened word had spread of nudity, homoeroticism, strongly perfumed smokeables and large amounts of alcohol on the premises. Opening in the first days of September 1969, the show was, by all accounts, rough-edged, rowdy and raw, transmitting a flood of high-voltage emotion and poetry directly onto a packed public sitting within touching-distance of the performers. A very roughly chiselled block of marble that in years to come would gradually turn into a masterpiece.
Freely inspired by Genet’s novel, and by Genet’s assertion that its essence would best be expressed by being “mimed and danced”, many of the narrative episodes chosen by Lindsay for stagingin that first production would in future stay largely the same – Divine’s funeral in the cemetery and Darling’s scenes there with the Priest and with Ernestine, the flashback to Divine’s entrance in the Café and first encounter with Darling, their “wedding and first night”, Mimosa’s flirt with Darling, Giselle’s madness, Our Lady’s murder of the old man, the comedy cabaret scene, the Archangel, Divine with Our Lady, the Trial and execution, and the consumptive death of Divine as a finale(Genet:“Divine died yesterday, in a pool of her vomited blood”).
Some of the scenes in the first production – such as Ernestine turning bizarrely into a kind of Salomé figure, dancing with a severed head– soon disappeared. But basically this first production – and no longer Genet’s novel – thus became the basic narrative foundation from which future productions of Flowers would develop.
What evolved almost beyond recognition was how the show was staged as Lindsay’s stage language evolved, and who performed in it.In October, Flowers was performed in the York Arts Centre, and shortly afterwards in Warwick University… with mostly new performers, and the first major modifications of the show.
Apart from Lindsay, the only performer from the first Flowers to remain a huge presence in the production for well over the next twenty years was the irreplaceable Jack Birkett, The Incredible Orlando, in the roles of Mimosa, the murdered man and his ghost, and the unforgettable central performer and singer in the cabaret scene. Since the early 1960s, in this show and countless others, onstage and offstage, for over 30 years(nearly all of them after becoming blind), he was Lindsay’s most recurrent partner in crime and punishment, adventure and laughter, disaster and triumph, rivalry and loyal friendship. At any rate, from 1968 to 1973 Lindsay had one foot in London and one in Scotland (mostly Edinburgh), where the invention of the Edinburgh Festival and above all its ever-expanding and experimenting ‘Fringe’was triggering a theatrical and artistic renaissance that provided opportunities far greater than anywhere else in Britain.
In particular, cosmopolitan figures such as Richard Demarco, Jim Hynes, Michael Rudman and Giles Havergal created ‘progressive’ contextssuch as The Citizens Theatre (and The Close) in Glasgow, and The Traverse in Edinburgh, which were instrumental in offering Lindsay Kemp and his troupe many invaluable opportunities for experimental show-making and performing: an excellent training ground for the future. No wonder he began announcing in interviews that he’d been born on the Isle of Skye, or in Edinburgh, or Glasgow. He was also teaching a lot, both in London and in Scotland, and this became an invaluable way of discovering and training new performers for his shows. It was also a period when his behaviour onstage and offstage fed a growing reputation for outrageousness, both in a positive and negative sense: outstandingly flamboyant talent and shocking alcoholic excesses. Fortunately he was also highly persuasive and skilled in obtaining forgiveness for his sins… when it suited him.
Flowers came to the Traverse Theatre for the first time in July 1970 – with various improvements and further cast reinforcements, and the first of Andrew Wilson’s many contributions to the music. It returned to the Traverse in November, still with Annie Stainer as Ernestine and cabaret dancer, and was then developed again for the Close Theatre in Glasgow the following January. In December, Lindsay, Jack and Annie Stainer rehearsed and performed Dylan Thomas’s A Child’s Christmas in Wales in the York Arts Centre, redeveloping the show Lindsay had performed at the old Lawnmarket Traverse in December 1964… one of the many ‘redeveloped’ shows of his career. To complete the programme, a new work called Legends was created, based on early Hollywood movies: a seed that over many years would generate a whole straggling family of productions… as we will soon see.
After a notoriously scandal-ridden Arts Council Tour of Scottish provincial cities with Turquoise Pantomime in early 1971 (a typical mixture of disasters, dramas and triumphs), a new and very different creation was developed: his second full-length production, loosely based on Buchner’s play Woyzeck, with the title role played by Lindsay, revelling in the madness of the character and of the world around him.
Annie Balfour played Maria, and various of Lindsay’s circle of collaborators were involved, including Orlando, Morag Deyes, Stuart Forbes, Hugh Fraser, Irene Muir, Laurence Rudic, and Hamish McDonald. More speech fragments were used – something of a departure from the Pantomime formula, experimented with here as in early Flowers and Salomé – and many of the costumes were made of paper. As with all his productions at the time, Lindsay was also billed as director and designer. His Woyzeck was an ambitious project, the first rough sketch of a new dramatic style, but it had a short life, and was never performed again.
In contrast – as an example of early 1970s performance attitudes and Lindsay’s readiness to throw himself into improvisational happenings that abolished not only the stage’s mythical fourth wall but all four walls and the stage as well–he and his troupe took part in the Traverse Tattoo from 23 August to 11 September 1971. This took place in the Traverse Courtyard and featured a vaudeville band called Poppy Dog and the Cannabis Resinators. This featured a basic band of musicians, and Lindsay and troupe, who were joined by anyone who wanted to do so…and all kinds of actors and musicians who were performing at the festival and happened to be passing joined in with the music, the performance or both. Lindsay improvised dances or routines and invited others to join him… playing the Pied Piper, as he always did.
In the same period he also worked as movement director on Richard Eyre’s The Changeling at the Edinburgh’s Lyceum and King’s Theatres, and then jumped at the important chance offered by the Citizens in Glasgow to direct a “serious play”, i.e. Genet’s The Maids. This ran for two and a half triumphal weeks in October 1971, and became legendary due to its then fledgling cast of Tim Curry, Rupert Fraser and James Aubrey, and to its director’s audacious but apt directorial choices. Both these experiences provided further evidence of his widening range and growing skill in terms of show-making.
At the Citizens Theatre there followed a revamped Crimson Pantomime, plus choreography on the Citizens Company Christmas Pantomime, and then Turquoise Pantomime in January 1972.
In August of that year, a more comprehensively revised Flowers ran at the Traverse Theatre during the Festival, drawing sold out houses every night: Kemp and Flowers were both becoming niche icons. For the occasion he collaborated with Lindsay Levy (a young writer, assistant director on the previous version of Flowers) on a more carefully articulated dramaturgy and staging: this included the introduction of a narrator (Levy, sitting on a high-chair as she read occasional passages from the novel).
Richer, more sophisticated and powerful, with extra incense and smoke, and louder music, the show was still raw enough, erotic enough and spontaneous enough to remain faithful to Genet and to Lindsay’s improvisations and unpredictability… yet again, there were episodes where he quarrelled violently onstage with members of the cast, or harangued members of the audience in the middle of a scene. In the stiflingly hot all-black theatre – covered with white chalk graffiti drawings, slogans and fragments of Genet, hand drawn and written by Lindsay –for the spectator the sense of real impending danger, sex and violence was inescapable: Artaud mixed with parody and nudity, plus new high-impact musical and lighting effects forminga flood of sudden surprises and contrasts.
(I was among the stunned spectators… the first time I saw Lindsay. Little did I know…)
That October (fresh from his adventures with David Bowie’s concerts in the Rainbow The atreand the London opening of Ken Russel’sSavage Messiah) came another ambitious creation which (like Flowers) would later change radically and develop into a major international success: Salomé. The choice of subject showed his readiness to engage with more complex themes… and the shift from Genet to Wilde in itself reflected both contrasts and similarities: Kemp’s self-identification with the lives and works of authors who attracted him was a lifelong trait and source of inspiration(Genet and Wilde may appear to be opposite extremes, but both of their lives were tragic celebrations of homoerotic adoration, and both performed on their pages with a mixture of raw directness, bittersweet irony and baroque poetry).
Kemp’s later versions of Salomé would combine deep erotic pulsions with decadently corrupt power and riches, but the prototype try-out of October 1972 was forced – for obvious economic reasons – to present a Poor Theatre vision of Herod’s cruel extravagance. The Traverse Salomé also differed greatly from what would come later because Lindsay did not play the role of Salomé. He had taken to Divine the transvestite immediately and totally but – as he put it – “a thirty-five year-old man playing a twelve year-old Princess calls for a lot of cheek”… not that he ever lacked cheek. The main reason behind his decision to play Narraboth, the slaveen amoured of the princess, had more to do with the fact that he had been cast by Robin Hardy for his film The Wicker Man, which began shooting in October: by playing Narraboth, Lindsay could adapt to the changeable scheduling of film-making by having an understudy
ready to replace him. The role of Salomé was played by Annie Balfour – Maria in Woyzeck – a powerful dancing actress, who would go on to play an extraordinary Ernestine in Flowers during its triumphs in 1974-1976.
The task of adapting Wilde’s word-rich play to Kemp’s image-rich, music-rich and movement-rich stage language fell to Lindsay Levy, his main collaborator at that time, both in terms of assistant directing and dramaturgy. The bones of Wilde’s text were preserved, but reduced by more than half: Kemp only staged works based on authors he was in love with, but that never stopped him from removing most of their words in order to tell their stories in his own language. Onstage, Jack Birkett/Orlando played the first of many incredibly grotesque versions of Herodias, using his powerful singer’s voice in an acting role to comic and chilling effect. The experienced actor John Church played the first of many obsessive Herods fated to succumb to the two monstrous women, while Christopher Brown was – literally – a fire-eating Jokanaan, presented as an obsessed bigot whose preaching speeches were peppered with bursts of flame, having been pre-recorded and electronically transformed into crazed gurgles. As in future versions of Kemp’s Salomé, the death of Jokanaan was staged as a Saint Sebastian-style ritual.
Among the other members of the informal entity billed as the Lindsay Kemp Theatre Troupe in this period were Bob Anthony, Mark Baldwin, Ray Arazma, Giles Webster and Les Davidson, with costumes by Stuart Forbes. Many of the early rehearsals took place in London, until the cast transferred to Edinburgh, and the show opened in the Traverse Theatre on October 12 1972.
From the second day of Salomé, the evening show was followed by a semi-improvised late-night performance called Sideshow… another sign of Lindsay’s insatiable appetite for stage time. This featured live music by the Mama Flyer Band, and Kemp and/or his troupe performing songs, sketches and highlights, partly varying from one night to the next.
The following 12 months were extremely busy, both in Scotland and London, with all kinds of mixed projects, some briefly reaching fruition (a very short-lived creation called That’s the Show in the Traverse in late January 1973, some filming, including The Lindsay Kemp Circus directed by Celestino Coronado, and much teaching, north and south), others falling by the wayside. Plans included taking Flowers to London, redoing his production of The Maids with himself playing Madame… a year when life was, as he used to say, “very busy, very bumpy”… i.e. numerous ups and downs, and numerous amorous happenings. Much was brewing… and much was being drunkas well.
By the autumn things were falling into place: an extended season in the Traverse was confirmed, and plans were underway to upgrade Legends and then develop The Maidsto ready it for performance in London.
Legends opened on 11 October, with the subtitle A tribute to the Stars.In his programme note, Lindsay described the show’s premise:“Inspired by Buster Keaton’s projectionist… I shall allow myself to be carried away and utterly involved in the movies that I am projecting, watching and directing…”The programme also including a very period “artist’s manifesto” by Lindsay, reproduced here, complete with a dedication (spelling mistakes included)“For Carmen Miranda, Jeanette Macdonald, Marylyn Monroe, Buster Keaton, Charlie Chaplin, Ann-Margaret, Brian Patten, Jean-Luis Barrault, Dr.Caligari, Jean Genet, Jean Cocteau, Maria Montez, Ludmilla Tcherina, Greta Garbo, Jeanne Moreau, Lesley Carron, the sisters Gish, Jean Tierney, Walt Disney, Celestino, Jennifer Jones, Johnny Weissmuller, Moira and Norma Shearer, Jean Harlow and many, many others, thank you, I love you.”This was the kind of declaration that stimulated many British journalists to come up with the brilliantly original idea of coupling ‘Kemp’with‘Camp’ for years to come. Camp was indeed one ingredient of his personality and his creations, especially in this period and especially in Legends. Camp was an escape-route from pompousness, institutionality and inhibition, and a laughter-filled declaration of homosexuality.
Camp meant playfulness, self-parody, gender interplay, license to dress up, to be tragic… and theatrical. More specifically, for the post-war generation, it usually meant idolising the 1920-1950 generation of Hollywood stars, and the myth of Hollywood.] All this was expressed naively and hilariously in the three-man show called Legends, through a concept which under various names(e.g. The Parades Gone By, The Big Parade, Sogni di Hollywood and The Illusionist) Lindsay would more lavishlyre develop many years later, for numerous Dance Companies and for his own full company.
In the Traverse production, alongside Kemp’s Keatonesque projectionist dreamer, The Incredible Orlando and Bob Anthony (a close friend and collaborator for many years by this stage) played a bizarre variety of male and female roles, with Kemp flitting in and out of his celluloid dreams… Bob Anthony’s appearance in drag, limping on crutches while miming in playback the song By a waterfall(from Busby Berkeley’s Footlight Parade) was one iconic image, as was Orlando dressed as Judy Garlandsinging a desperate version of Somewhere over the Rainbow, or the three of them dressed as sailors and dancing the hornpipe. The movie and soundtrack collages skipped quickly from one film to another: from Dracula (withering in the morning to Greig’s Peer Gynt ‘Morning Mood’) to 42nd Street to Frankenstein to Frankie and Johnny to San Francisco, with the three of them confidently portraying fifty Busby Berkeley girls at a time… the whole show was unadulterated comedy, especially in the tragic scenes.
While Legends ran for two weeks, The Maids was rehearsed during the day. Lindsay could draw on having directed Genet’s play in Glasgow two years before, but was now able to take more liberties “in a show of my own”.
And it was all the more “his own” because this time he was playing the star in the role of Madame. Solange and Clair were played respectively by Tony and David Meyer, two identical twins who had played Lysander and Demetrius in Peter Brook’s world tour of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. The idea of casting these two muscularly handsome young actors to play the two female mirror-image servants of Lindsay’s ultra-bourgeois Madame meant stretching everyone’s imagination (and no one could have guessed that David would soon be playing leading roles in various Lindsay Kemp Company productions worldwide).Lindsay’s silver dress and sequinned skull-cap may have come from Flowers or from the The Maids in Glasgow… the boys wore corsets and coarse stockings, as had the maids in Glasgow, and their flesh was covered by graffiti hearts, stars and drawings by Kemp.
Lindsay, by all accounts, directed with great insight and was extraordinary in his portrayal of Madame… his poses and gestures and their role in his characterisation far outstripping any of his previous roles.
The elegant drawl of Lindsay’s speeches worked wonderfully… and where his memory failed him he showed quick wit in adlibbing… often substituting much spicier texts than the originals. He revelled in the role’s sophisticated cruelty and in bringing out the hidden brutality engendered by Madame’scontempt for the lower class servants: the production’s ironic wit, erotic obsessions and murderous undertow was very true to Genet… and would also soon serve Lindsay well in a different role, but wearing the same dress.
Once The Maids had opened as the evening’s main show on October 24th, ‘Legends’was performed after it, as a late-night show(if there had been a third show to do in the Traverse courtyard afterwards, no doubt Lindsay would have happily run down and done that too)… until the season ended on November 4th.
That season in the Traverse was a huge success (admittedly, it was a small theatre), and doubtless increased Lindsay’s confidence greatly, but it turned out to be his last appearance there. The core Kemp troupe moved back to London, as preparations went ahead for the upcoming triumph –planned many weeks earlier – of The Maidsat The Bush Theatre in Shepherd’s Bush… another small theatre, also with raised seating in a pitch black room, this time just upstairs from a thriving and very noisy pub.
After the get-in, around mid-November, only a few days before the debut, during rehearsals a registered letter was brought up by the owner of the pub downstairs and given to Lindsay: it was a legal injunction forbidding the performance of The Maids to go ahead. Genet’s English agent – despite previous indications to the contrary – was refusing to give permission for this production. Lindsay sat on the wooden seating dumbstruck, reading the letter over and over. The Meyer twins likewise. After a few minutes, Lindsay jumped up shouting “Fuck’em all! Just wait and see! Fuck’em!
He swept out, spoke with the theatre management, and then called David Bowie from the pay-phone down in the pub.
The next morning David (who had been introduced to the world of Genet by Lindsay) went to Rosica Collins in her office, to persuade her to grant permission.
According to Bowie, she said to him “I’d rather drop dead. I’ve got a professional production coming up!” But he eventually persuaded her to allow one single non-paying invitation-only performance, as he then reported to Lindsay.
A few hours later, in the theatre, Lindsay gathered his cast and collaborators and announced hisplan: the slot reserved for The Maids would be filled briefly by a week of performances of The Turquoise Pantomime, and then byone non-paying performance of The Maids, mostly in order to be recorded on a video camera which David Bowie had promised to provide so that he could then send emissaries to search for Genet himself, to show him the video and get his permission. And as of immediately, a cast would be organised and preparations and publicity arranged for the opening of a new production of Flowers at the Bush after Christmas.“They can’t prevent me from staging Flowers: it’s inspired by Genet, but there’s no text!!” he finished defiantly. And with a gleam in his eyes, “Nobody’s going to stop me from doing Flowers!!!”
Little did anyone guess that this disaster would lead to all Lindsay Kemp’s subsequent triumphs… and a great deal more besides.