Joint Stock

Company Name: Joint Stock Theatre Company (1974-1989)

Founders: David Hare, David Aukin, Max Stafford-Clark.

Established: 1974

Purpose: Umbrella company for new work and projects of the founders; subsequently reshaped as a company presenting work created through research and workshops in an author-led devising process that came to be called the Joint Stock Method and striving to enact socialist principles in company management.

Current Status: Company disbanded in 1989, three years after losing revenue funding from the Arts Council of Great Britain. Some of its methods where continued by Out of Joint from 1993 to the present. Out of Joint continues to produce, but more as a traditional new writing company.

Area of Work: New Writing. Investigative, documentary, and socialist theatre.

Policy: Max Stafford-Clark and Bill Gaskill led the company collective from 1975-1981. Joint Stock was run by collective management and policy committees through the 1980s, latterly a triad of artistic directors formed a Council of Management emerged to address concerns about designated leadership and financial responsibility: Souad Faress, Karim Alrawi, and Nick Broadbent were the Council from 1985-1987; Broadbent, Alrawi, and Carol Procter served from 1987-1989.

Signature: Incisive plays about class relations and social change, based on the company’s documentary research and ethnographic residencies, framed by a playwright’s vision and distilled by the writer’s voice. The company made plays focused on specific communities, professions, historical periods, and social crises, including: the Chinese cultural revolution; 19th century trades union training and activism; seventeenth century religious millennialism and the Cromwell revolution; the growing British Asian community in contemporary London; World War I hospitalization on country estates; the sexual revolution; agricultural wok in the Fenlands; British military escapades in Algeria; reporters at the Tory Party convention; homelessness and new age spirituality in Britain; nuclear power plants and environmental crises in the UK and Africa.

Funding: Joint Stock launched with project grants, and then received Arts Council Great Britain revenue funding from 1975 until 1985, with grants increasing yearly until cuts to the Arts Council translated to cuts to companies across the board. Joint Stock funding provided for the research and workshop period for play creation, as well the rehearsal and performance of tours of the resulting plays. One point of contention was that actors were not paid during the ‘gap’ during which the writer wrote the script between the workshop and rehearsals. In its last years, Joint Stock returned to project grants to fund single shows.

Based: In London; often rehearsing in St. Gabriel’s Parish Hall and Riverside Studios early on, and with offices in Tottenham Court Road by the 1980s. In 1977, the company briefly planned to have a permanent base at the Round House, which did not come to fruition past that season.

Performance Venues: Royal Court Theatre, ICA, Dartington Arts College, Riverside Studios, Almeida, Drill Hall, Roundhouse, Oval House, the Soho, and reginal theatres, community centres, and arts centres throughout the UK, especially the Birmingham Rep and the Crucible in Sheffield.

Audiences: General

Company Work and Processes: The Joint Stock method consisted of an exploratory workshop for research and exploration of a topic during which actors, director, designer and the writer lived together, travelled together, shared readings, and conducted interviews or other immersive and ethnographic way of gathering knowledge. Also central to the workshops were processes of self-reflection, ‘truth sessions,’ or other ways of connecting the topic to the artists’ personal lives. Then, during a ‘gap’ period for the other artists, the author composed a script. The collective reassembled to rehearse the play and prepare to perform it on tour. In the 1980s, Joint Stock committed to a policy of casting shows with equal numbers of men and women and equal numbers of white actors and actors of colour.

Personal Appraisals and thoughts:

‘The shift in the company’s policy that occurred when Max, Bill, and David Hare were working on Fanshen was obviously a turning point. Sitting around in a circle in the rehearsal room, the company examined its own structure and organisation, and concluded that the company belonged to the co-operative of actors, directors, designers, and administrators; no longer would Max or Bill or David or I be responsible as ‘management’ for running the company and deciding the project. That would be done by the collective, and, quite uniquely possibly, for this country at least, a formula was developed whereby the company would function as a shifting collective; the current company would be responsible for setting up the next project and, like a chain letter, the next company would do likewise.’ (David Aukin in The Joint Stock Book)

‘Rehearsals were at once exhilarating and intimidating. We did a lot of exercises in public speaking, speaking persistently on different subjects for set lengths of time, being heckled by other members of the company (…) We roamed around the rehearsal room above a pub in Camden Town, watched, hawk-eyed, by Bill, magisterial and austere, and Max, coaxing and encouraging. Heathcote [Williams] flitted about, rarely still, dispensing wisdom (…) A new approach to acting was need to suit the context, a certain kind of reality is demanded when you are talking to your audience only a few feet away, a certain kind of truth. Actually it’s the same truth you seek in all acting, but here it was distilled, in close up.’ (Roger Lloyd Pack, on Joint Stock’s first production, of Heathcote Williams’s The Speakers, in The Joint Stock Book)

‘I remember…
Suggesting the Board consider more projects by women and being told there were no plays by women because women had nothing to write about – they hadn’t done anything in the world.
Learingn T’ai Chi.
Meetings that seemed to last for days.
Complaining about the size of the women’s parts in Fanshen and the distribution of them and being told men ran the revolution not women; and anyway it would tax our imagination enough learning how to play a Chinese peasant.
Self-criticism. Always ended in a slanging match.
Fleas in the rehearsal room carpet.’ (Carole Hayman in The Joint Stock Book)

‘The workshop for Cloud Nine was about sexual politics. This meant that the starting point for our research was to talk about ourselves and share our very different attitudes and experiences. We also explored stereotypes and role reversals in games and improvisations, read books and talked to other people. Though the play’s situations and characters were not developed in the workshop, it draws deeply on this material, and I wouldn’t have written the same play without it.’ (Caryl Churchill on Cloud Nine in her introduction to Plays One)

‘One of the great things about a company like Joint Stock was that it politicized its members, quite apart from any artistic performance. And I had my ideas changed. I remember being accused at one meeting of changing my mind and I said, well…I’d listened to the arguments and I’d seen that I was wrong and I agree now with what other people told me. I changed my mind about the nature of mixed casting, and how to work that. Surely that was the point, that was the whole point!’ (Paul Jesson on the 50:50 policy in an interview with Sara Freeman)

‘Well, in perfect hindsight, I think we should have done as Caryl suggested and close up shop earlier.’ (Souad Faress, reflecting on debates from 1985 and 1986 about the company’s future in an interview with Sara Freeman)

‘Caryl Churchill’s Cloud Nine at the Royal Court is an outrageously outspoken comedy about sex. It has great fun contrasting old-time sexual hypocrisy with present-day permissiveness. (…) The first half of the play is the funnier with the straight-laced family revealed as a nest of Tartuffes. In the second, the various permutations, clinically observed, began too early to lose my interest in who did what, and with which, to whom. However, it is clear that the excellent Joint Stock Group, under the direction of Max Stafford-Clark, are serious in their study of sexual urges and deviations. The approach is never merely funny. Cloud Nine explodes myths and shines a curious torch into dark erotic corners with honesty and an all-saving sense of humour. In a brilliant cast of seven, Julie Covington plays both a schoolboy and a matron. Antony Sher both a stuffy father and a child of six. Others changed wigs, sexes and amatory tastes with equal dexterity. A fascinating evening, but emphatically not one for prudes.’ (John Barber review of Cloud Nine in the Daily Telegraph 30 March 1977)

‘[Brenton] gets an excellent production from the Joint Stock Company whose nine members play about eight parts each with marvellous agility. Their style is a blend of meticulous observation and lunatic comic invention. I shan’t easily forget Tony Rohr being led on as a Horse, naked except for a leather harness and eyeing his surroundings with glinting animal suspicion. The Joint Stock, under Max Stafford-Clark, are fast becoming the best and most versatile company in what is still rather bizarrely called Fringe theatre. Their work ranges from tough political exposure (Yesterday’s News) to hilarious knockabout entertainment. They are creating the sort of popular theatre Joan Littlewood used to dream of: both committed and accessible.’ (John Peter review of Epsom Downs in the Sunday Times, 14 August 1977)

An Optimistic Thrust (Young Vic) is a heavily sardonic title for a series of improvisations by the Joint Stock Company and William Gaskill partly on literary themes, partly on political ones, partly on ‘situation’ — in other words, nothing in particular. It is a combination of literary earnestness, goonish humour, and artistic navel-gazing  of which only English experimental groups are capable: an awful example of what can happen when a brilliant director and six talented actors (such as Julie Covington and David Rintoul) get together with nothing much to say.’ (John Peter review of An Optimistic Thrust in the Sunday Times 16 March 1980)

‘In Joint Stock’s richly peopled, Rabelasian Promised Land, Radi/Rudy becomes entangled in others’ histories, others’ lives. Because of this concentration on the personal, the political points the play makes are never allowed to become simple or theoretical (…) This play is billed as a comedy: it is very funny, it also has a lot more depth than many plays which would be billed as ‘serious pieces.’ Its language is at times rich and poetic, stark and ritualistic at others and liberally peppered throughout with stories, jokes, saying, and riddles. It is is also (oh joy of joys, when so little seems to be) wildly theatrical and visually delightful…Watch out for the flight of the arch angel, which is one of the most beautiful things I’ve seen in a theatre.’ (Isabel Arro review of Promised Land in What’s On 16 November 1988)


The Speakers
Adapted by the Company
from Heathcote Williams
Directors: William Gaskill and
Max Stafford-Clark
Birmingham Repertory Studio; tour1974
Writer: Stanley Eveling
Director: Max Stafford-Clark
Traverse Theatre; Theatre Upstairs1974
Writer: Barry Reckord
Director: Max Stafford-Clark
Theatre Upstairs, Royal Court1974
Fourth Day Like Four
Long Months of Absence

Writer: Colin Bennett
Director: Max Stafford-Clark
Traverse Theatre; Theatre Upstairs1974
Doomduckers Ball
Company adaptation based on
an idea by Neil Johnston
Oval House; Theatre Upstairs1975
Writer: David Hare, adapted from
William Hinton
Directors: William Gaskill and
Max Stafford-Clark
Crucible Studio Theatre, Sheffield1975
Yesterday’s News
Company devised
Directors: William Gaskill and
Jeremy Seabrook
West End Centre: Theatre Upstairs1976
Light Shining in

Writer: Caryl Churchill
Director: Max Stafford-Clark
Traverse Theatre: Theatre Upstairs1976
The Speakers (revival)
Company, adapted from
Heathcote Williams
Directors: William Gaskill and
Max Stafford-Clark
International tour1976
Devil’s Island
Writer: Tony Bicât
Director: David Hare
Sherman Theatre; Royal Court1977
A Though in Three Parts
Writer: Wallace Shawn
Director: Max Stafford-Clark
A Mad World, My Masters
Writer: Barrie Keeffe
Director: William Gaskill and Max Stafford-Clark
Young Vic; Roundhouse1977
Epsom Downs
Writer: Howard Brenton
Director: Max Stafford Clark
Writer: David Hare, adapted from
William Hinton
Directors: William Gaskill and Max Stafford-Clark
London tour1977
The Glad Hand
Writer: Snoo Wilson
Director: Max Stafford-Clark
Royal Court Theatre1978
The Ragged Trousered

Writer: Stephen Lowe, based on the book by Robert Tressell
Director: William Gaskill
Plymouth Arts Centre; Riverside Studios1978
Cloud Nine
Writer: Caryl Churchill
Director: Max Stafford-Clark
Dartington College of the Arts1979
The House
Writer: David Halliwell
Director: Richard Wilson
Dartington Hall1979
An Optimistic Thrust
Company devised
Director: William Gaskill
Nuffield Studio Theatre1980
Cloud Nine (revival)
Writer: Caryl Churchill
Director: Max Stafford-Clark and Les Waters
Royal Court1980
Say Your Prayers
Writer: Nick Darke
Director: Richard Wilson
College of St. Mark and St. John1981
Writer: Hanif Kureishi
Director: Max Stafford-Clark
Jackson’s Lane Community Centre; Royal Court Theatre
Real Time
Company devised
Director: Jack Shepherd
College of St. Mark and St. John; ICA1982
Writer: Caryl Churchill
Director: Les Waters
University of Essex1983
Victory: Choices in Reaction
Writer: Howard Barker
Director: Danny Boyle
Gardner Centre; Royal Court1983
The Crimes of Vautrin
Writer Nicholas Wright, after Honoré de Balzac
Director: William Gaskill
Dovecot Arts Centre1983
The Great Celestial Cow
Writer: Sue Townsend
Director: Carole Hayman
Leicester Haymarket Studio; Royal Court Theatre1984
The Power of the Dog
Writer: Howard Barker
Director: Kenny Ireland
Lyceum Studio1984
Writer: Stephen Wakelam
Director: Simon Curtis
Crucible Sheffield1985
Amid the Standing Corn
Writer: Jane Thornton
Director: Carole Hayman
Soho Poly1985
Fires in the Lake
Writer: Karim Alrawi
Director: Les Waters
Theatre Workshop, Edinburgh1985
A Mouthful of Birds
Writers: Caryl Churchill and David Lan
Director: Ian Spink and Les Waters
Royal Court1986
Writer: Ralph Brown
Director: Paulette Randall
Drill Hall1987
A Child in the Heart
Writer: Karim Alrawi
Director: Nick Broadhurst
Drill Hall1988
Promised Land
Writer: Karim Alrawi
Director: Nick Broadhurst
Old Bull Arts Centre1988
51st StateAbandoned due to company struggles1988
Born AgainCancelled - Paulette Randall and Sîan Evans’ withdrew from the project.1989
Joint Stock ceases to function due to funding cuts1989
Max Stafford-Clark and Sonia Freidman launch Out of Joint as Stafford-Clark leaves the Royal Court1993
Out of Joint
Paired Productions:
The Queen and I
Writer: Sue Townsend
Director: Max Stafford-Clark
Writer: Jim Cartwright
Director: Max Stafford-Clark
Royal Court1994
Out of Joint
The Libertine
Writer: Stephen Jeffreys
Director: Max Stafford-Clark
Royal Court1994
Out of Joint
The Man of the Mode
Writer: George Etherege
Director: Max Stafford-Clark
Royal Court1994
Out of Joint
The Break of Day
Writer: Timberlake Wertenbaker
Director: Max Stafford-Clark
Leicester Haymarket; Royal Court1994
Out of Joint
Three Sisters
Writer: Anton Chekhov
Director: Max Stafford-Clark
Lyric Hammersmith1994
Out of Joint
The Steward of Christendom
Writer: Sebastian Barry
Director: Max Stafford-Clark
Royal Court1995
Out of Joint
Shopping and Fucking
Writer: Mark Ravenhill
Director: Max Stafford-Clark
Royal Court Upstairs1996
Out of Joint
The Positive Hour
Writer: April De Angelis
Director: Max Stafford-Clark
Hampstead Theatre1997
Out of Joint
Blue Heart
(Heart’s Desire and Blue Kettle)
Writer: Caryl Churchill
Director: Max Stafford-Clark
Royal Court1997
Out of Joint
Our Lady of Sligo
Writer: Sebastian Barry
Director: Max Stafford-Clark
Oxford Playhouse1998
Out of Joint
Our Country’s Good (revival)
Writer: Timberlake Wertenbaker
Director: Max Stafford-Clark
Young Vic1998
Out of Joint
Writer: Simon Bennett
Director: Max Stafford-Clark
Royal Parade, Plymouth1999
Out of Joint
Some Explicit Polaroids
Writer: Mark Ravenhill
Director: Max Stafford-Clark
New Ambassadors1999

Interviewee references: Max Stafford-Clark

Existing Archive Materials:
Archival materials concerning Joint Stock are held at the Victoria and Albert Museum Theatre Collection and the University of California at Davis Special Collections. Max Stafford-Clark’s paper have been donated to the British Library and David Hare’s papers from 1968-1996 are at the Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas at Austin.

Selected Bibliography:
In addition to the listed academic sources below, Joint Stock was consistently reviewed in by large newspapers, especially by the critic Irving Wardle, and reviews of their shows are well collated in Theatre Record/London Theatre Record.

  • ‘Joint Stock Theatre Company.’ British Theatre Companies 1980-1994. Jacqueline Bolton. Ed. Graham Saunders. (London: Methuen, 2015: 115-140)
  • Being an Actor. Simon Callow. (London: Penguin, 1995.University of Iowa Press, 1991. 272-279)
  • ‘Collaboration, Identity, and Cultural Difference: Karim Alrawi’s Theatre of Engagement’. Susan Carlson. (Theatre Journal 45:3 (1993). 155-173)
  • Joint Stock: From Colorless Company to Company of Color.  Joyce Devlin. (Theatre Topics 2:1 (March 1992). 63-76)
  • ‘Product into Process: Actor Based Workshops’. Colin Chambers. Dreams and Deconstructions: Alternative Theatre in Britain. Ed. Sandy Craig. (Derbyshire: Amber Lane Press, 1980: 105-115)
  • ‘Writing the History of Alternative Theatre Companies: Mythology and the Last Year of Joint Stock.’ Sara Freeman. Theatre Survey 47.1 (May 2006): 51-72.
  • A Sense of Direction: Life at the Royal Court. William Gaskill. (London: Faber and Faber, 1988)
  • Thatcher’s Theatre – or, After Equus.’ Vera Gottlieb. New Theatre Quarterly 4:14 (1988). 99-104.
  • ‘Theatre: Collective Movements.’ Steve Grant.  Time Out 404 (30 December 1977- 5 January 1978). 13.
  • ‘Mirrors of Utopia: Caryl Churchill and Joint Stock.’ Frances Gray. British and Irish Drama since 1960. Ed. James Acheson. (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1993. 47-59)
  • ‘Cloud Cover: (Re)dressing desire and comfortable subversions in Caryl Churchill’s Cloud Nine.’ James M Harding. (Publications of the Modern Language Association of America 113:2 (1998). 258-272)
  • ‘From Portable to Joint Stock….Via Shaftesbury Avenue: An Interview with Catherine Itzin and Simon Trussler.’ David Hare.  Theatre Quarterly. 5:20 (1975-1976). 108-115.
  • ‘Double Acts: There is a significant trend for playwrights and directors to form lasting partnerships in creating productions. Ten of them discuss their working relationships.’ Ronald Mayman.  Sunday Times Magazine. 2 March 1980. 21-27.
  • The Politics of Theatre and Drama. Ed Graham Holderness. (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1992)
  • Stages in the Revolution: Political Theatre in Britain since 1968. Catherine Itzin. (London: Eyre Methuen, 1980)
  • Devising Theatre: A Practical and Theoretical Handbook. Alison Oddey. (London: Routledge, 1994)
  • Fringe First: Pioneers of the Fringe Theatre on Record. Roland Rees. (London: Oberon Books Limited, 1992)
  • The Joint Stock Book: The Making of a Theatre Collective. Rob Ritchie. (London: Methuen, 1987)
  • The Royal Court Theatre and the Modern Stage. Philip Roberts. Cambridge Studies in Modern Theatre. (Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1999)
  • Contemporary British Theatre. Ed Ted Shank. (London: MacMillan, 1996)
  • Taking Stock: The Theatre of Max Stafford-Clark. Max Stafford-Clark and Robert Philips. (London: Nick Hern Books Ltd, 2007)

Acknowledgements: Page compiled by Sara Freeman