Forkbeard Fantasy

Company name: Forkbeard Fantasy

Founders: Chris, Tim and Simon Britton (1973) and Penny Saunders (1979)

Established: 1974

Reason: ‘To connect our loves of mechanical and kinetic sculpture, film, comedy, writing and cartoon, and present mixes of these in live performance events both indoors and outside.’ (Tim Britton 2013)

Current Status: Still going strong – Forkbeard Fantasy

Area of work: Experimental

Policy: ‘We base our theatre on surrealist portrayals of the human condition.’ (Alternative Theatre Handbook 1975)
‘With constructions and gadgetry, animation and film, and an overriding sense of the comic and absurd, to excite, disturb, amuse and sometimes (all opinions accepted) even to annoy as many people in as many places as possible. Flexibility at all times.’ (Alternative Theatre Directory 1983/84)

Structure: Collective of freelance artists

Based: Various locations in the West Country. Currently – Bristol office/Devon studios.

Funding: Arts Council and Regional Arts Associations

Performance venues: Anywhere. UK and international tours.

Audiences: Anyone…all ages

Please see Forkbeard Fantasy people for details about our interviews with Tim and Chris Britton, Penny Saunders and Ed Jobling.

Company work and process:
There is more to come here but for the time being Tim Britton has sent this about their work at Oval House in the 1970s and 80s:

‘The Government Warning Show was the first full ‘take-over’ style week at the Oval.

We’d done The Single Grey Hair Salami Show with Ian Hinchliffe/Matchbox Purveyors in the Upstairs [space at Oval House] in 1976 and Nick (terrible –I’ve forgotten his surname) who was the programmer encouraged us to come up with a special full-on presence at the Oval.

We suggested a big take-over of the building…a special large-scale build show in the Downstairs [space], our show Men Only Upstairs and a lovely environment in the café, designed and built by Caroline Lee and Steve (argh! I’ve forgotten his surname too) both from Digswell House Artists community in Welwyn… AND not forgetting The Johnny Rondo Trio playing in the café environment.

The whole event was what would now be called ‘immersive’ and was something both Forkbeard Fantasy and IOU were doing all over the country at that time – creating environments all over buildings that the audience travelled through.

So The Government Warning Show was our first big do at The Oval…around 1977.

(We have extremely fond memories of Judith Knight and Seonaid Stewart [they went on to set up Artsadmin in 1979] who did all the office stuff and were huge friends and supporters of Forkbeard Fantasy and of course Roz [Price] & Alphie [Pritchard] with whom we also became great friends – who couldn’t?!)

After that came The Grid Reference Show but this time we linked up with Crystal Theatre who did The Upstairs with Johnny Rondo in the Café once again.

And then there was Ghosts 1985 – another big 3-day build show Downstairs.

And The Clone Show 1980 ditto.’

Personal appraisal and thoughts:
Tim Britton on Forkbeard then and now (2013): ‘Forkbeard has been evolving for nearly 40 years. Originally started in 1974 as an experimental performance art group, it has developed into what is now a thriving multi-media arts company, producing and presenting their highly individual brand of comic surrealism across the UK and abroad without stop. This makes Forkbeard one of the UK’s longest surviving independent performance companies.

Much of the company’s development has been based around touring theatre shows. However this is just one element of a diverse field of work. Forkbeard have a broad range of skills in street and stage theatre, writing, poetry, animation, film-making, mechanical installations and interactive sculptures. 

Everything we do carries the common themes of innovation, humour and invention, and all with a unique Forkbeardian twist. Still true to its avant-garde origins, the work, be it stage show or mechanical museum exhibit, champions magic, entertainment and fun.

On stage the Forkbeard trademark mix of film, animation, cartoon with live performance in the 1970s has continued to set them apart as pioneers of a new wave of multi-media theatre. In the past couple of years Forkbeard have pulled away from touring theatre shows which had been a large percentage of our bread and butter across 38 years. We still perform ‘one-offs’ and special outdoor events.’

After 35 years of Arts Council funding Forkbeard received a 100% cut in 2012. We no longer apply to them, preferring to forge our own way.’


A Forkbeard FantasyEdinburgh Fringe Club; Warwick University FestivalJanuary 1974
A Potted History of TheatreSouthampton Nuffield TheatreJanuary 1975
Southampton Performance Festival

Southampton Art Gallery; St Mary's Market; parks, streetsJune 1975
Production unknown Edinburgh FestivalSeptember 1975
The Excretia ShowSt Edmunds Church, Salisbury and on tour in theatres and outdoor eventsOctober 1975
The Rubber God ShowOn tour in theatres and outdoor eventsNovember 1975
The Cranium ShowUK tour and Lantaren Rotterdam’s Unrequited Love Festival.January 1976
The Single Grey Hair Salami ShowOval House, Rotherhithe Warehouse, Birmingham Arts Lab and village hallsMarch 1976
The Road ShowSouthampton Art GalleryApril 1976
The Government Warning ShowApril 1976
Men OnlyJanuary 1977
Colour ChangeFoyer spaces, outdoors, in shop windowsMarch 1977
The Great British Square DanceMainly outdoor spaces but also performed indoorssJune 1977
Desmond and Dorothy FairybreathJanuary 1978
On an Uncertain InsectJune 1978
The Splitting Headache Show
Director: Paddy Fletcher
January 1979
The Clone ShowJune 1979
Seal of the WalrusJanuary 1982
The Human MousewheelStreet performancesMarch 1982
The Bird ShowLate night festivals and fairs. Made for Bruce Lacey’s Fire Fair at Ling in North Norfolk.June 1982
The Brontosaurus ShowJanuary 1983
The Library Ssss-sshowMarch 1983
SpringtimeJune 1983
The Cold FrameMarch 1984
HeadquartersOutdoor festivals and fairsJune 1984
GhostsJanuary 1985
The Brittonioni BrothersMarch 1985
Porta-P-RoyaleOutdoor eventsJune 1985
Plants, Vampires & Crazy KingsSeptember 1985
MythJanuary 1986
The Blue Woman was an inflatable that was used in several showsOutdoor eventsOctober 1986
HypochondriaJanuary 1987
A Waste of TimeMarch 1987
An Experiment in ContraprojectionTouring show including to Mexico, Colombia, Argentina, Poland, Canada and all over EuropeOctober 1987
Work EthicJanuary 1988
The Red StrimmersMade for 'Art In The Garden' at the Glasgow Garden Festival and toured worldwideMarch 1988
The Cressida FollyInstallation as part of Red Strimmers showSeptember 1988
A Serious LeakTouring theatre showJanuary 1989

Forkbeard Fantasy people
Forkbeard Fantasy website

Existing archive material: Forkbeard Fantasy website


Work Ethic  by Forkbeard Fantasy. Walton-on-Thames: Nelson Dramascripts extra, 1995.

Forkbeard Fantasy’s Theatre of Animation ed. Violet McClean & Sean Aita, text+work, Arts University of Bournemouth, 2016 includes ‘Dazzle and Wobble: Forkbeard in Context’  by Susan Croft

Articles and Chapters

‘Penny Saunders: A Landscape of Possibilities’ by Greer Crawley. in Collaborators: UK Design for Performance 2003-2007, eds.Kate Burnett and Keith Allen. London: Society of British Theatre Design, 2007. pp26-31

‘Crossing the Celluloid Divide: Forkbeard Fantasy’ by Greg Giesekam, in Staging the Screen: The Use of Film and Video in Theatre. London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2007.

Entries in: Alternative Theatre Handbook, compiled and edited Catherine Itzin (TQ Publications, 1976)
and British Alternative Theatre Directory, edited Catherine Itzin (John Offord, 1983/84)

Additional Bibliography and Links

Acknowledgements: This page is in its infancy and is awaiting further information for its completion. The page thus far has been constructed by Carole Mitchell with input from Tim Britton. November 2013. Supplementary material: Susan Croft, May 2017

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