Belt & Braces

Company name: Belt and Braces Roadshow Theatre Company & Band

Established: 1973

Founders: Jeni Barnett, Eugene Geazley, Gavin Richards and Marcel Steiner

Reason: To produce politically aware entertainment from a working class viewpoint. The name of the company was chosen by Eugene Geazley, Irish actor and signwriter, who remembered his father actually wearing belt and braces to go to work. The company was set up by four ex-members of Ken Campbell’s Roadshow after that group was disbanded. The first show was scrabbled together at the Leith Festival in Edinburgh and entitled Ramsey MacDonald The Last Ten Days. It was booked for one night at a dockside pub. After the first performance, the pub landlord cancelled the strippers who normally played and the show ran to packed houses for the rest of the week.

Current status: Disbanded 1984. ‘Too much success!’. The rise of Thatcher and the decline of the organised working class movement of the time.

Area of work: Political

Policy: Roadshow company that aimed to produce articulate, socialist entertainment from a working class viewpoint

Structure: Co-operative control, Gavin Richards later elected as Artistic Director.

Based: London

Funding: Arts Council of Great Britain grant and unpaid promoters throughout the country. Tours abroad, mainly Sweden, Denmark and Holland. Later commercial success.

Performance venues: Toured anywhere in the country. Preferred venues included places where the working class gathered: Trade Union meetings, Working Men’s  Clubs, Arts Centres, colleges, boats, open spaces, pubs, schools, ‘anyone who’d have us’.

Audiences: Yes – often huge!

For more images see Gavin Richards’ web page.

Company work and Process:
‘Each project was arrived at by a different route’ (Gavin Richards)

Personal appraisals:
See Eileen Pollock’s quote on working on Death of An Anarchist

‘The writing and the acting are tough and passionate; a question which should be central to socialist drama – is posed and yet more wonderful, explored.’  (Robert Cushman, The Observer)
‘In these days of theatrical gloom, Weight shines out like an undipped headlight. Anyone who’d like to be convinced again that theatre is alive and well, vigorous, funny and moving, should get down at once to see this new play by Belt & Braces.’  (Naseem Khan, Evening Standard)
Weight proves that Belt & Braces are already worth every penny of their increased Arts Council grant. The play is vividly written and splendidly argued. The performances exert a magnetic pull.’  (Dusty Hughes, Time Out)
Accidental Death of an Anarchist
West End Reviews:
This is no solemn documentary; it is a grotesque farce in the time honoured style of political caricature.’  (Felix Barker, Evening News)
A breakneck and biting satirical farce that fulfils the old gag, bringing Marxism to the Marx Brothers. The combination of belly-laugh comedy and political anger is amazingly successful. It’s a tribute to the gifted troupe, especially adapter-director-star Gavin Richards, whose prestidigitating performance as the mad impersonator is a dazzling combination of Groucho, Peter Sellers and Leon Trotsky.’  (Newsweek)
‘…..[Accidental Death of an Anarchist] celebrated its 250th performance at Wyndhams Theatre on Friday October 31st. It is now the longest running alternative theatre production ever, and continues to generate a whole new West End audience. Its success has opened the West End to a whole new range of productions from the fringe and from small theatres. Many consider that this achievement has changed the face of London theatre permanently.’  (This Is London magazine, November 1980)
The TV version:
‘It was as refreshing to find this material hurled out of the box as it was to find a cast wholly new to television, led of course by Gavin Richards whose talents are marvellously suited to the medium. Very few people can act and also deliver the material of a stand- up comic with the camera in close-up. Richards can. Moreover this production was the first completely successful example I can remember (there have been umpteen attempts) of the Brechtian technique of showing the studio complete with technicians and barracking audience in order to avoid the viewer’s suspension of disbelief. It worked brilliantly well: the jokes were funny but you were never allowed to forget the true purpose of the piece for long.’  (Chris Dunkley, Financial Times, September 1983)

Production table:

Production NameVenuesDates
Ramsey MacDonald: The Last Ten Days
The Recruiting Officer
Writer: George Farqhuar
The Front Line
The Mother
Writer: Bertolt Brecht, translated by Steve Gooch
England Expects
Writer: Gavin Richards
Cast: (at different times):
Jeni Barnett, Jim Bywater, Terry Canning, John Fiske, Jan Hardistey, Paul Hellyer, Paul Kessel, Gavin Richards, David Simcock, Derek Thompson
Music: John Fiske
Old Half Moon
Toured: England, Wales, Scotland, Holland and Sweden
Not So Green As Its Cabbage
Writers: John Fiske and Eileen Pollock
Mrs Colley Pepper
Writer: Gavin Richards
A Day In The Life Of The World
Writers: John Fiske and Gavin Richards
Red Rock Review
Writers: Jeni Barnett, John Fiske and Gavin Richards
Anderton's Archipelego
Writers: Jeni Barnett, Jim Bywater and Gavin Richards
Accidental Death of an Anarchist
Writer: Dario Fo, adapted by Gavin Richards from a translation by Gillian Hanna
1980-1981 at Wyndhams Theatre West End1979-1980
Coming Up
Written and directed by Kate Phelps
Produced with D.E.T. Enterprises

Interviewee reference:  Gavin RichardsEileen Pollock and Gillian Hanna

England Expects by Gavin Richards (Journeyman Press 1977)

Acknowledgements: Many thanks to Gavin Richards for providing the copy for this page, constructed by Jessica Higgs, assisted by Kim Dexter. November 2013

The creation of this page was supported by the National Lottery through the Heritage Lottery Fund.