Mouth and Trousers

Company name: Mouth and Trousers Theatre Company

Founders: Three-person collective consisting of Lesley Ferris: Artistic Director and Administrator, Jan Dalley: Designer and Writer and Brian Rotman: Technician and Writer.

Established: June 1979

Reason: Personally the Founders wanted to see small-scale work being done and it was the height of the pub theatre movement. They wanted to be part of the bigger discussion. In an interview from The Stage on October 25th, 1979 Lesley Ferris said, ‘West End theatre is dying – good pub theatre at one-quarter the price of the West End is what we plan to provide. We will offer more challenging and interesting productions than the large commercial theatres dare attempt. The London Fringe keeps theatre alive by taking risks.’

Current status: Disbanded in late 1983, early 1984, after their venue, the York and Albany pub, closed down.

Area of Work: New writing

Policy: The aims and objectives of the company:

a)   to promote theatre experimentation and encourage the use of non-naturalistic acting with masks, puppets and mime alongside written text

b)   to encourage new writing for the theatre that attempts to break out of prevailing naturalism

c)   to provide workshops for actors, directors and playwrights to discuss and review new material

d)   to continue running the present venue, the York and Albany Theatre, in order to (i) support new theatre companies by giving them the opportunity to premiere new work (ii) support playwrights by providing ‘New Writing Showcases’ on a regular basis

Structure: Collaborative, all decisions made equally between the three Founders. This included artistic policy, administrative policy, invitations to visiting companies, selecting scripts to be performed and budgeting expenses.

Based: York and Albany pub, 129 Parkway, NW1 in Camden.

Funding: Funding from a variety of sources. The first few productions were funded by the Founders. Lesley Ferris worked as a temp to help start company. No permanent funding. Grants from Camden, a building grant for raked seating to increase audience capacity. Grants for new writing showcases. Some funding from Greater London Arts Association. Arts Council of Great Britain gave a new playwrighting award to Lesley Ferris to develop Subjugation of the Dragon; the award came with a modest stipend. All shows produced on a profit sharing basis. For every production the company received some ‘profit’ but it varied widely.

Performance venues: Main venue: The York and Albany Pub, Camden. Also performed at the Head Theatre (Putney), Theatre Space Covent Garden, Jackson’s Lane Community Centre and in Cambridge. Harlequin was also invited to a school in Cambridge and in January 1980 to be part of the London Mime Festival at Battersea Arts Centre.

Audiences: Very mixed. Depended on the show. Camden community of theatre-goers. When Julia Pascal’s work Soldiers was at the York & Albany there were many young working class Irish. Sometimes a predominantly women’s audience if the show was women focused. Attendance was generally strong.

Company work and process: The first play at Mouth and Trousers’ permanent venue, The York and Albany, was The Maids by Genet. The company wanted to open with a well-known experimental play that offered some great women’s roles. The Maids was their first production to use all women, and the characters created alter-egos that were dolls (made by the two actors that played the roles) that resembled their human counterparts. At the top of the show, the Maids gave birth to the dolls and these figures were used throughout to designate the ritual make-believe of the two women. The work was characterised by physicalised and ritualised action through these puppet-dolls.

This was followed by Death of Harlequin by Leslie Ferris which looked at the comedy and history of Italian commedia del’ arte and was developed as a physical theatre/mask piece. Real slapsticks were made.

New writing, physical theatre and mime work led the collaborative discussions between Lesley Ferris, Brian Rotman and Jan Dalley. Rehearsals were very creative and open, drawing on the actors’ expertise. Rehearsals were usually a month long, working around people’s schedules as actors had other jobs.

Their New Writing Showcases presented three new plays each and three Showcases were presented over the company’s history. Different directors were brought in for each play included in the showcase and they were all workshopped as part of the development process.

Although the term was not used at the time, one of the shows by Lesley Ferris could be called ‘devised’. In The Subjugation of the Dragon rehearsals each of the three actresses created a monologue based on their own experiences. Rehearsals used a very interactive, process-based system.

Personal appraisal & thoughts:
Lesley Ferris
: ‘The late 70s and early 80s was a very rich time to work in theatre. There was a lot of press on the fringe movement at the time. A lot of mime and comic and political humour pervaded the theatre scene. One strategy was to highlight the work of women. Women’s Theatre Group had just started up and there were several organisations, like ‘Women Live’. Women were not getting recognition for their work and very few women playwrights and directors were being produced. Very little women’s work was taking place in the mainstream so it was very important for small-scale theatre to provide opportunities for women directors and playwrights, because if they didn’t do it, who would? But also, it gave a richness to our work and some kind of political vision that there needs to be some kind of parity for women’s theatre artists considering that throughout history it’s been a totally male dominated art form.’


The Subjugation of the Dragon
‘Women in legend do nothing but wail and warn, Lesley Ferris protests: her neatly-conceived comic experiment links the origin of female oppression with the origin of Drama itself, in myth and ritual, and uses the experiences of actresses to amplify the frustrations of women…Some of the ‘experimental’ dialogue seemed just the translation into metaphor of a naturalistic discourse, without independent dramatic meaning; but the play is most enjoyable for its effortless, insightful humour and a perfectly-paced performance of obvious collaborative harmony.’ (Philomena Muinzer, Time Out)

Gogol’s ‘The Nose’
‘In this atmospheric and entertaining adaptation, Mouth & Trousers elaborate and visually illustrate Gogol’s short story… The versatile company create absurd and complex scenarios practically from thin air and evoke effectively the bizarre and nightmarish quality of the story.’ (Gillian Hetherington, Time Out)

Death of Harlequin
Death of Harlequin is a compilation by Lesley Ferris which comes over as immensely enjoyable and authentic – the two are all too often self-cancelling… Very imaginatively staged and exceedingly well moved, this one act play could well be expanded by a second half taking the saga on to make a whole evening’s entertainment.’ (Anne Morley-Priestman, The Stage)


I'm the Original
Writer: Brian Rotman
Director: Lesley Ferris
Cast: Michael Wilcox, Nicholas Rankin, Mark York, Mary Carroll
Design: Jan Dalley, Lesley Ferris
Music: Terry Back
Jackson’s Lane, Head Theatre (Putney), Theatre Space (Covent Garden), Studio School, CambridgeSept - Oct 1979
Death of Harlequin
Writer: Lesley Ferris
Director: Lesley Ferris
Cast: Carol Thompson, Ingrid Frankenberg, Michael Wilcox, Peta Lily, Mark York
Jackson’s Lane, Head Theatre (Putney), Theatre Space (Covent Garden), Studio School, Cambridge and GLAA-ILEA Drama ShowcaseSept - Oct 1979
The Maids
Writer: Jean Genet
Director: Lesley Ferris
Cast: Ingrid Frankenberg, Carol Thompson, Peta Lily
Set: Andrew Roberts
Lighting: Brian Rotman
Costume Designer: Janet Dalley
Music: Michael Wilcox
The York and AlbanyNov 1979
(full length version of Death of Harlequin)
Writer: Lesley Ferris
Director: Lesley Ferris
Cast: Ingrid Frankenberg, Carol Thompson, Peta Lily, Michael Wilcox, Rory McDermott
The York and Albany, Studio School, Cambridge and was invited to be part of the London Mime Festival, Battersea Arts CentreNov 1979 - Jan 1980
Gogol's The Nose
Adapted by: Janet Dalley
Director: Lesley Ferris
Cast: Roger Lewis, Michael Wilcox, Ninka Scott, Adela Saleem, Frank Bren
Costumes: Ella Huhne, Janet Dalley
Masks: Tim Howe
Music: Terry Back
The York and AlbanyFeb - March 1980
Mr. Puntila and His Man Matti
Writer: Bertolt Brechit
Director: Edward Braman
Cast: Roger Lewis, Mark Knight, Michael Wilcox, Lorraine Tandy, Rory McDermott, Mary Anne Alexander, Adele Saleem
Set and masks: Time Howe
Costumes: Gill Barstow
Sound: Terry Back
The York and AlbanyApril 1980
New Writing Showcase I
The Mourning After the Night Before
Writer: Red O’Hagan
Director: Mike Scoblow)
Cast: Mark Knight, Catherine Barrett, Ninke Scott
Night Shift
Writer: Richard Lord
Director: Jan Dalley
Cast: Carol Ann Mansell, Sarah Shipton
Writer: Brian Rotman
Director: John Fletcher
Cast: Richard Bremmer, Yvonne Adalian, Frank Bren, Rory McDermott, Dorian Ellis
The York and AlbanyMay 1980
The Subjugation of the Dragon
Writer: Lesley Ferris
Director: Lesley Ferris
Cast: Carol Thompson, Ingrid Frankenberg, Sally Cranfield
Puppets designed by: Janet Dalley
Puppets painted by: Tim Howe
Sound: Terry Back
The York and AlbanyJune 1980
New Writing Showcase II
Such a Delicate Question
Writer: H. Gabriel
Director: Janet Dalley
Cast: Richard Earthy, Glyn Morrow, Amanda Orton
The Confession
Writer: Keith Dorland
Director: Carol Thompson
Cast: Mark Knight, Geoffrey Morgan
Morris & Doris & Baby Makes Three
Writer: Michael Sharp
Director: David Leveaux
Cast: David Bedard, Deirdre Doone, Rory McDermott
The York and AlbanyJuly - August 1980
Arrest! inspired from stories by Jorge Luis Borges
Writer: Nicholas Rankin
Director: Lesley Ferris
Cast: Max Harvey, Peter Van Dissel, Jonathan May, Lawrence Bates, Ellen Cullen
Set: Katie Watts
Sound: Terry Back
Lighting: Brian Rotman
Costumes: Gillian Barstow
The York and AlbanyNov - Dec 1980
New Writing Showcase III
[Part of the 'Women in Theatre London Festival' produced by Mouth and Trousers, Oval House, Tricycle Theatre from February –April 1981; at the York and Albany-- ten-week Women’s Season; received a £650 grant from Greater London Arts Association to support festival].
Writer: Linda A Edwards
Director: Carol Thompson
Cast: Laura Cox, Susie Johns, Maggie Palmer
Collecting Leaves
Writer:Frankie Finn
Director: Carol Gould
Cast: Allison Dean, Linda Edwards
Writer: Berta Friedstadt
Director: Sue Curtis
Cast: Janet Amsden, Mark Foord, Christopher Prior, Catherine Shipton, Julie-Christian Young
The York and AlbanyApril 1981
Rehearsed Readings I: New Plays by Women
The Relief
Writer: Diana Souhami
Director: Christine Eccles
Cast: Josie Kidd, Annie Hayes, Julian Littman, Martha Gibson
Crossword by Cheryl Lee
Director: Sara Mason
Cast: Sarah Shipton, Julie Dale Beckett, Graham Christopher, David Bedard
Café Society
Writer: Ayshe Raif
Director: Sue Sanders
Cast: Katherine Page, Daphne Odin-Pearse, Betty Romaine
The York and AlbanyApril 1981
Rehearsed Readings II: New Plays by Women
Manfully Fight Under His Banner
Writer: Sarah Daniels
Director: Carole Hayman
Cast: Colin McCormack, Anne-Louise Wakefield, Marilyn Finlay, David Beames, Maggie Steed
The Importance of Being Emulated
Writer: Pat Van Tweet
Director: Margaret Sheehy
Cast: Lyn Ashley, Valerie Lush, Leslie Glazer, Marilyn Rance,Jane Salisbury
The York and AlbanyApril 1981
The Subjugation of the Dragon
Writer: Lesley Ferris
Director: Christine Eccles
Part of 'A Women Live May ’82 Event'
Cast: Catherine Shipton, Cheryl Lee, Gina Landor
The York and AlbanyMay - June 1982

Interviewee reference: Lesley Ferris

Acknowledgements: This page was written and constructed by Phoebe Ferris-Rotman with the help of Lesley Ferris (Mouth and Trousers co-founder). November 2013

This page was created with support from the National Lottery through the Heritage Lottery Fund.