A Seventh Man

A Seventh Man by Adrian Mitchell adapted from the book by John Berger and Jean Mohr, music by Dave Brown
Notes on the Foco Novo production by Roland Rees 2011

In 1976, like most of my North London friends at that time, I found myself in Compendium, the Left Wing Bookshop in Camden Town, buying and devouring the latest John Berger to be published – A Seventh Man. Berger was a favourite writer of mine and I found his book both startling and challenging with its photos by Jean Mohr of Turkish migrant workers living in Germany (the Kreutzberg of so many Fassbinder films), and immediately set about acquiring the rights from Berger to devise a stage production. I was lucky enough to secure Adrian Mitchell the poet to adapt the book for the stage, and the cartoonist Ralph Steadman to design the sets. I had also worked with the inventive young jazz pianist Dave Brown on a previous production of Brecht’s Man is Man. Dave composed the ‘Travelling Music’ for the migrants and Mitchell’s songs, and he accompanied all the performances as a member of our touring company, and with Paddy O’Hagan, a musician actor formally with Pip Simmon’s company, played a crucial role in the creative process. Sheelagh Killeen who designed costumes for many Hampstead Theatre productions, which was frequently our London venue, did our costumes.

Steadman’s stark black and white backdrop of a long lonely road, with a receding line of telegraph poles disappearing into the distance, was, with the building breeze blocks, used every which way – both as factory production line, beds, seats, rooms etc – were a complete synthesis of the migrants’ experience, as they moved from the rural to the urban, and this was echoed by the haunting music that accompanied the actors on their journey, a kind of folkloric – electronic through line.

A Seventh Man had a number of actors who had been in Foco Novo’s Minefields Tours. It mapped some of the same territory of the Caribbean plays I had directed earlier of Mustapha Matura and Alfred Fagon (1969-1975). It told the story of Turkish workers migrating to Germany (from villages to town). Seeking work in another part of the world after first undergoing a medical in Istanbul, which was the tunnel to Europe, then travelling through Yugoslavia by train, finally to arrive in the industrial towns of Southern Germany. It describes their lives in very constrained circumstances, in crowded dormitories, the weekly visit to a prostitute , and the relentlessness grind of factory life. When they did return home, ‘gastarbeiters’ were only allowed year work-stays, they would often go home with many watches up their arms and ghetto- blasters under them!

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