Libby Mason Topics List

Topics List taken from her interview with Susan Croft, October 2010 at UnicornTheatre, recorded by Jessica Higgs
Video and audio extracts edited by Jessica Higgs


Personal Background
Ordinary middle class background and parents
She had a passion for theatre for as long as she can remember
Parents had some influence
Mother typical 1950s wife and mother who wasn’t allowed to have independence of later generation
She loved art and took Libby to galleries and films
Father took her to musicals and farces
Moved around when growing up as Father in RAF, ended up in Croydon in teenage years
Went to Croydon High School for Girls
Pleased she went to all girls school
Inspired by English teachers Miss Duncan and Miss Collins, lesbians,
who introduced her to literature especially drama
Very few Universities offered drama in late 1960s – Hull, Bristol, Manchester
She went to Hull (1967) and read Drama and English
Mother took her aged 13 or 14 to see Vanessa Redgrave play Rosalind
in As You Like It at the Ashcroft Theatre in Croydon – unforgettable
Saw her lip quiver when expressing love which gave Libby idea of what falling in love
could be like and the possibility of how powerful theatre can be
Used to mount shows in their living room
Course had practical production component but emphasised dramatic literature
and theatre history which has proved useful latterly when teaching herself
Training at Hull not especially aimed towards going into acting
Encouraged to think of teaching or further study
Other students went on to drama schools but Libby headed for auditions

Early politics
Time of political upsurge, she was involved in occupation at Hull
Her political education began early and at home
Mother was a member of the Liberal Party and active in the anti-apartheid movement
Read lots of books on politics inc. Absolute Beginners by Colin MacInnes about racism in 1950s London
With her two brothers she grew up surrounded by Vietnam Solidarity campaign,
CND and other radical movements
Aware as family and actively involved
Paris ’68
At same time in London saw some of the best theatre ever
Peter Brook’s Midsummer’s Night Dream and US
Lots of revolutionary theatre about then
Peter Barne’s The Ruling Class
She felt there was something she could connect with in the ideas and movements of the time

First work experiences
Remembers Ed Berman’s Inter-Action was around
Her first job was with the Globe Players, a children’s theatre company,
playing a princess and witches
She quickly gravitated to TIE (Theatre-in-Education) — very radical at that time
First with Leeds TIE at the Playhouse (now West Yorkshire Playhouse)
Embraced humanistic, liberal ideas, creating own work and taking it into schools
TIE movement extremely Trotskyist then
Then joined Belgrade TIE, Coventry, strongly political

Working processes of TIEs in Leeds and Coventry
Leeds TIE didn’t have a particular working process
Talked about what they wanted to do and then got up and improvised it into existence
Fairly unmethodical. Good shows and quite interactive
Coventry TIE [at the Belgrade] was dominated by the WRP [Workers Revolutionary Party]
They had a resident writer, David Holman
They’d improvise and he’d go away and write it into a play
Hard core involvement with what was going on politically in area, lots of organising
Heavy Marxist-Trotskyist interpretation of world  in the work
Company mainstays: David Pammenter, David Holman, Maggie Steed, Sue Johnston
Libby joined WRP very briefly. Strongly influenced, though not bullied into it
It was quite glamorous in a way with the Redgraves about
Libby had revolutionary fervour
She attended a meeting where the WRP leader, Gerry Healy, was laying down the law
in a male bullying way and her innate feminism rebelled and she left them
Did not have a problem with women being marginalised but with politics dictated from above

Shows at the Belgrade
Remembers a piece about homelessness for young children that Maggie Steed was in
Another about the melting of the ice cap where they naively played Inuits
[Drink the Mercury by David Holman]
There was no feminism in TIE at that point
Shared a flat in Coventry with Julie Holledge, became good friends
and influenced each other in terms of their feminism
Later in London she squatted.
There were a lot of Left wing teachers around at that time so work was well-received
and resonated with current ideas in the schools they played
David Holman was a very skilled writer
Would attend the SCYPT conferences where the company was revered
because of its politics but perceived as bullies, as hard-core WRP
But looking back realises it was very didactic with much finger-wagging and haranguing
e.g Corin Redgrave at an Equity meeting ‘there ain’t no other way’ – Libby now believes there is
Doesn’t regret those times but not proud of them
Involvement in industrial action e.g. with car-workers

Red Ladder
Joined Red Ladder when it was based in London
Lived in a squat in the Holloway Road
Work was created collectively without a director and writer
Very talented group including Chris Rawlence who later married, and later divorced,
Marsha Rowe from Spare Rib and became a documentary film maker;
Richard Seyd from San Francisco Mime Troupe; Glen Park, Marian Sedley
It was fun. All living together, working together, multiple relationships
Really learnt and embraced the personal is political
Had reading sessions: Lenin, Marx, Trotsky, feminist texts –
they called themselves a socialist-feminist theatre company
Funded by Arts Council and paid full-time
Plays were known as The Women’s Play or The Health Play
The Women’s Play was about equal rights for women, crèches, basic feminist stuff
Toured to Labour Movement venues, TU halls, community venues all over Britain
Strong Labour movement at that time. Work very successful
The Health Play  was about health care of the time
The early days of Red Ladder had been agit-prop street theatre and group
was on fringes of some illegal anarchist organisations and some of them had
been to art schools
The [symbolic] ‘red ladder’ was on stage in The Women’s Play – later
published as Strike While the Iron is Hot
Feels her time was when Red Ladder was at its theatre peak
Agit-prop style
Women’s Play was Brecht influence without the skill of his work:
‘in this scene we demonstrate that…’
Didn’t particular like work of some other political groups of time
such as the Maoist, Recreation Ground
Describes how middle class company would try and portray working class
communist factory workers
Not to her or Red Ladder’s taste or style
Red Ladder had good music and composers
Only trained actors were Glen Park and herself
Others were Richard Seyd, Chris Rawlence, Marian Sedley
They didn’t have a base. Hired halls to rehearse in, kept props in their squat
Sat around developing ideas and then got up and rehearsed
All on same rate until they moved to Leeds where part-timers were paid less
which caused some upsets
Thinks move to Leeds because there was a stronger working class base and
more opportunities all around – easier housing for example
Libby thinks work was never as good as in London
Edge had gone out of the time, now  mid to late 70s, and edge and urgency in work was less, as a consequence
Her time to move on

Bradford Frilly Left and other work
Became involved with ‘Frilly Left’ in Bradford
Got quite close to The General Will where she met Noel Greig
At that time, after Noel had taken over the company, they were working with community actors
and Libby got involved with that and went on the dole which you could do then
Knew of The General Will’s work, had met them when Red Ladder first went
to Bradford and also at SCYPT and TACT [The Association of Community
Theatres] conferences
Very attractive company in many ways
Worked with them in Bradford
Also had teaching and directing work at Rose Bruford College at that time
Directed The Women’s Theatre group twice, Double Vision and Dear Girl,
and commuted down from Bradford for these

First met Noel Greig in a room in Bradford the year Red Ladder moved there (1975)
Libby knew about Noel’s controversial stopping of a General Will performance but wasn’t there
The company changed and lost any chance of funding
A lover of Libby’s was in the lesbian and gay show All Het Up and a lot of dear friends
Talks about her sexuality and first coming ‘out’ to students at Rose Bruford
during a women’s project she was leading there sometime between 1975 and 1980
She had a woman lover at Hull University and they were completely ‘out’ there and it was fine
Identifies as bisexual

Began to direct because of Rose Bruford – c1979/80
Specifically invited by Stuart Bennett or Colin Hicks who were running the Community Theatre
Course there (she knew them from the TIE days) to come and work with the group of women previously
She can’t remember if she first worked as a director with Women’s Theatre Group
who were making a piece of work about the Dagenham Equal Pay Strike Out on the Costa del Trico!
She had friends in the company
They had done quite a lot on the piece but asked Libby to help them finish it off
At the same time made the show with Rose Bruford students, and some time around then
(in 70s) acted in a play with Gay Sweatshop about lesbian custody [Care and Control]
Then in the early 80s a whole other generation of women in the
Women’s Theatre Group asked her to direct ‘the lesbian show’ –
they made a piece called Double Vision, which she co-wrote and directed,
followed by Dear Girl, which she also co-wrote and directed
Was asked to direct things by friends from late 70s into the 80s
and realised she was better and directing than acting

Details on productions
Rose Bruford piece ended up being a cabaret show about being young heterosexual women
– appropriate that they worked from their own experience
Remembers they did ‘There is Nothing Like a Dame’ re-writing the lyrics
Different sketches

Care and Control  – second Gay Sweatshop’s women’s company production
Libby in it second time around
Cast by Kate [Crutchley] to do the tour of it, replacing Kate Phelps
Not involved in the creation of it
Remembers that in rehearsal period that she wasn’t a great actress
Remembers it was a great show and touring it to the Netherlands
Meeting women years later saying ‘you took that play to where I was living
and gave me the courage to come out as a lesbian and leave my husband’
Really proud of being part of that work and what they did with it
Gay Sweatshop had real edge at that period because there was work to be done
Great people around – Kate Crutchley, Nancy Diuguid, Michelene Wandor who wrote Care and Control

Thinks Double Vision came first [of the two Women’s Theatre Group plays]
Libby was wanting to get pregnant at that time and Double Vision had story of a pregnant woman in it,
and then when she and Tierl [Thompson] were writing Dear Girl Libby discovered she was pregnant
Double Vision – desire from women’s movement at that time to represent a
wider range of sexuality on stage than previously shown
Key person in that company was Hazel Maycock a brilliant actress
Two actresses and a musician in company
She set exercises, they improvised, Libby ‘scribed’ and then went away
and wrote the whole thing up – everything came from improvs
Hazel Maycock and Adele Saleem were actresses and a Canadian musician
Joanne Richler wrote accompanying songs
Very effective and fertile working process and very proud of piece
Eventually published by a woman called Jill Davis who had been Libby’s first female lover at university!
Politically correct years and some people criticised them for showing a
stereotypical working class character called ‘Sparky’ which Hazel played (as she is working class)
Very well-received
It was a touring company with mixed audiences and young ones
Not part of permanent company
Early work invited in by friends but this later work was in response to them
advertising for a director, devisor, writer
She didn’t know any of them then and they had realised a need for a writer

Dear Girl co-written with Tierl Thompson
Tierl had come by some letters- correspondence between four women
at the turn of the 1900s which were extraordinary
This was raw material
They read everything and as much about their lives as they could and they wrote
a piece using their words which would now be called Verbatim Theatre or ethnodrama
They pulled a piece together using only the words written by the women
Very impressionistic piece
Organised material to themes
There was some resistance to Libby’s directing from within company
Talks about the type of company meetings held at that time where they
had no skills to give constructive criticism and often feedback was rude and inappropriate
Didn’t have a way then of expressing conflicts of ideas
Better nowadays at doing this. In those days lots of egos and found ways of
expressing personal hang ups and dislikes through those meetings,
disguising them as ideology
Still very good friends with Hazel
Both pieces very unusual in a way that only comes out in collaborative work
Respects the skill of a writer but some special, idiosyncratic  things that
can come out of collaborative writing processes 

Great reviews and responses
Took Dear Girl  to Edinburgh when Gay Sweatshop were there doing Noel Greig’s Dear Love of Comrades
(they used call them ‘the two old dears’), in terms of her career
Amongst her peers, she was seen as a good director and Noel would seek her out to work on his pieces

Design and staging of shows
[How did Double Vision and Care and Control  look artistically?]
Had wonderful designers. Amanda Fisk designed one and Double Vision used mirrors
Double Vision was in round. Dear Girl end on
Can’t say if there was an identifiable style
Intuitive director doing what feels right at time
Double Vision was broken up into scenes and punctuated with songs,
as it was quite Brechtian, and performers on stage all of the time

Gay Sweatshop
Her involvement with Gay Sweatshop was touring in Care and Control
and then work with new writers. Gay Sweatshop was family
She was close friends with Noel Greig and the two Philips [Osment and Tyler]
and always knew what was going on in Sweatshop

Parenthood and Best of Friends
Did some teaching work here and there
Pregnant when she did Dear Girl and had a baby, Joanna,
who was two when she interviewed for Theatre Centre in 1986
1984 – 86 mostly as home but also did teaching at Rose Bruford including under Colin Hicks
Theatre Centre took her back to working with young people
TIE movement lost its momentum and funding and a number of those involved
including David Johnston re-emerged in Theatre for Young People
Accumulating knowledge and experience and ways of weaving of ideas into plays
Perfect coming together
Did Best of Friends at Perspectives Theatre in the 80s — first time she directed a play by Noel Greig
Asked for by Noel
He had already worked at Theatre Centre and Libby was invited to apply for job at T
heatre Centre because of the success of Best of Friends
Best of Friends
one of her best experiences
Beautiful play, Noel writing out his relationship of his father
Noel good at writing about 80s, Thatcherism, Greenham Common
Theme of character discovering his father had gay relationships
woven into contemporary themes
Play of its time – questions whether you could do it now
Magical group of people, Simon Deacon, who is now mainly a musician,
Julie Wilkinson, now mainly a writer,
Orde Brown [actor with Incubus for a long time]

Theatre Centre
First woman director at Theatre Centre
David Holman had written for Theatre Centre in the past but when Libby arrived
it was women like Nona Shepphard, Bryony Lavery and Lisa Evans writing
Already established practice of female writers and a women’s company
At Theatre Centre from 1986 – 91
Full-time company members most of whom were actors. Very unusual
Everyone was on same wage and director was meant to be guided by will of company,
which she was very familiar with

Lots of very good plays
Getting Through
Nona Shepphard play, Laughter From the Other Side by Noel Greig [both 1986]
Wonderful admin team, Angela McSherry who went on to work with LIFT [London International Festival of Theatre]
and more recently The Tipping Point; Richard Morgan, who is now at the Royal Exchange in Manchester
Noel was resident writer, Bryony Lavery and Nona Shepphard were also writing,
Philip Tyler [actor/director] was a company member also beginning to write
Very talented, good hearted group of people and well funded
Theatre for young people rather than TIE
Politics were broadly Left but without ideological strictness of TIE movement
Learnt through Noel how to nurture and develop young writers
He set up a programme for that, in particular those from marginalised group
People like Roy Williams who began an actor in the mixed company, Noel took him under his wing,
helped develop his writing through the Theatre Centre programme and he is now a leading writer
Well-funded with amazingly high standard of working practices:
4 or 5 weeks rehearsal period and then a re-work period
Always a workshop of the play, someone attached as a dramaturg,
very good process for writing and development of new plays

During that time an opera done by Nona Shepphard and Helen Glavin on The Secret Garden [1991]
which toured to middle-scale venues;
Adjoa Andoh wrote a play; lot of emphasis on developing new writers
Bit of transition at that time when there ceased to be a full-time company of actors
– can’t recall whether they decided this would be better or due to money
Became a tighter management team, employing more freelance actors and directors
Lovely Theatre Centre continuum from Brian Way era, to David Johnston era,
through Libby and in to Ros [Hutt] era
Felt seemless. Excellent Arts Council support and schools

Some artistic conflicts especially around notions of equality
When she was 21 – something actor in collectives, she believed she knew it all
At 37 she didn’t believe 21 year old actors knew it all – a lot more confident of self
at that time as a leader and manager because of age and experience
Young people of the 70s became young middle-aged and changed things accordingly

Conflict around whether play by new Black writer, which had problems,
should be directed by a Black or white director and lots of debate –
she felt it needed a stronger more experienced director i.e. herself to be able to
take it from its starting point to become the strong piece of work it deserved to be
On that occasion she backed down but the piece wasn’t good
She and Noel had developed a strong sense of aesthetics in young people’s theatre
–ideas were not enough
Many fights, but good, honourable fights

Plays she directed including a second production of Noel Greig’s Whispers in the Dark  [1988]
and its sequel The Lie of the Land  [1991] produced in a double bill called The Land of Whispers

Piece by Natasha (Tasha) Fairbanks (she took her name off it in the end because Libby re-wrote it because it wasn’t working, but a good piece in the end)
It was about El Salvador [A Foreign Correspondence] for Women’s Company [1990]
The conflicts were most often with writers
Libby sure of her of judgement and was accountable to Board and not prepared to sacrifice this position

Sue Frumin’s The Marx Brothers Go East  [1988]. That was tough but worked out OK
Some adventures that didn’t work out
Had Agnès Limbos, talented Belgian artist came to make a piece [Chaos, 1991]
with their actors but it didn’t work out
Another play by a Black writer that was not ready

Libby expresses doubts about how appropriate her frankness is –
she’s choosing not to be diplomatic
Susan says that’s okay as it’s important to reflect the real conflicts
about the development of the art form at the time.
In conflicts over process versus product, Libby had to side with the latter

Piece they did about birthright which Kate Owen designed – not very good
Piece by Colm O’Clúbháin [Rip in the World, 1986] Irish writer Noel brought in, has since died,
very imaginative, designed by wonderful resident designer Bill Mitchell,
who subsequently co-founded Kneehigh
High production values helped weaker scripts
Though Theatre Centre became more hierarchical it was still very open situation
where people felt free to voice opinions – she learnt a lot
Theatre Centre was then based in Islington [at Hanover School, Noel Rd]
Libby’s daughter was at the school which was convenient and cool –
her downstairs, Libby upstairs

Move to Winnipeg, Canada
Leaving Theatre Centre – Whispers was successful and toured Canadian festivals
– Libby got offered teaching in Canada which Theatre Centre allowed her to do for 5 or 6 weeks a year
She was offered other work there and was unclear what her next stage should be
– Young Vic and Unicorn weren’t available at that time
It was time to leave, she wanted to leave on top and she fell in love
– intuitive choice to go
Also Angela had left – she and Richard [Morgan] were key to her Theatre Centre experience
She had a good reputation in Winnipeg, a small city of 250,000
Had directed Cloud Nine, Noel Greig’s Death of Christopher Marlowe and an Edward Bond play
at University of Winnipeg
Got offered a lot of work there, was at the top of her game
Also pleased to be with less competition, a bigger fish in smaller pond
Better than living in London as a single parent under [John] Major government
without lots of money was not attractive
It was a smart move
Her daughter was 9 and was devastated but adapted really quickly
and now thinks it was the best possible decision

Work since in Canada, connections with earlier work
Noel Greig coming over – co-writing Only Children – both were the only child in their family
In Winnipeg 93-98. Only Children was written long distance -Joanna was in it -1994
Then Noel came over to complete it and be in it

First Nations Work
Directed the first play by Ian Ross, a First Nations writer –
she didn’t have the White Canadian history of guilt and suspicion
of First Nations people
Very successful, won Gov General’s award, people bussed
down from reserves in North Manitoba to see it
Learnt an enormous amount – Europeans know almost nothing of that history
Led to founding of the company ‘Shakespeare in the Red’ with one of the cast members
Wrote Persillette, an adaptation of Rapunzel
Manitoba Arts Council was very generous and Libby was in a good place to get grants
Very happy time in terms of career and creativity
Community plays – Canada had adopted Ann Jellicoe model direct from her
[Dorset-based] Colway Theatre Trust
Libby Mason employed to co-create one in Winnipeg with a number of writers
and community people – huge outdoor travelling event –
very mixed group participating – French Canadian, Eng Canadian, Métis,
First nations, immigrant, older, younger – First Nations theme and title (Travois)

about the rebellion in the later 19th century known as the Riel Rebellion
which was about the Métis people, a mixed race First Nations and European
people, who had the opportunity to become the leading party in Manitoba
but were defeated in battle and Riel became seen in history as a traitor –
reclaiming history – v successful – Libby got reputation for First Nations work

Also attached to Prairie Theatre Exchange – directing youth theatre and
Theatre for Young People – seen as history, that and TIE movement,
now studied in schools and salons
Co-wrote and directed a version of Cinderella Stories, also Lisa, a Per Brask [and Carol Matas] play

Move to Victoria, BC
Has less theatre – one professional theatre, one YPT
Relationship over, 14 year-old daughter, went with little
Luckily got work teaching at University of Victoria then teaching acting at film school,
then an Arts Coucil grant to create a piece with First Nations group, Sycorax
version of The Tempest.
As ever very lucky but now much more teaching focus – not so much theatre work
2000/2001 got job at amazing international school, Pearson College
Move from freelance actor and social activist in her 20s to her ‘crone’ stage, 60s,
concentrating on passing on skills, though still does some creative work

Pearson College
Part of United World Colleges network – schools with mission to use education
as a force to create a peaceful and sustainable world, recruiting international body
Her college named after Lester B. Pearson College of the Pacific,
set up by and named after a former Canadian Prime Minister of the 1950s,
who helped create UN peacekeeping force and end Suez crisis – he left a foundation
Every student is on a bursary – fundraising is a constant struggle – teach International Baccalaureat
Libby teaches theatre, English and theory of knowledge
Has had Palestinian and Israeli student creating theatre together, Chechnyan and Russian,
also Greenland, Peru, Canada, Africa – like Theatre Centre –
she used to talk to Noel Greig about how it was like that way of multi cultures,
religions, etc finding ways of working together, respecting difference, disagreeing,
living together and creating theatre together
Transforming experience for 80 16-19 year old students a year – and for teachers
Stringent selection for academic achievement / potential and citizenship potential
Theatre focus is world theatre but she has done plays by Noel, Timberlake Wertenbaker etc.,
large-scale epic pieces with classes of 15

How she sees then from now
Born at the luckiest time – baby boomer: child of 1950s saw worst repression,
worst part of being English too, race riots of 50s big influences, political;
educated as teenager in 60s, student 67-70, working in arts in 1970 their most expansive time,
Arts Council of GB funding at highest, Theatre Centre at its height and Gay Sweatshop,
Women’s  Theatre Group etc – taught her immeasurably
A wonderfully privileged life

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