Nabil Shaban Topics List

Nabil Shaban Topics List taken from his interviews with Susan Croft on 9th July 2009 and 18th March 2010, recorded by Jessica Higgs
Audio and video extracts edited by Jessica Higgs

Born in the Middle East – Jordan, Mother of Turkish origin, Father half Caucasian, half Turkish, ancestors from Caucasus – previously Mongolia Family tradition of descent from Genghis Khan
– NS plans to reclaim kingdom or write a play on this
Jordan in 19C when Russia took over Ottoman empire – Islamic peoples were offered land in Jordan, Palestine, Syria
Family story – her father killed a man with his wife and fled with her to Jordan but marriage doesn’t last – he has at least 3 or 4 wives and is a bastard towards NS’s mother
Father’s job
Father a soldier in Jordanian army with Signals and Intelligence, moves to London to work in Intelligence at embassy and family eventually joins him
NS suspects he may have been murdered after listening in on Israeli plans for 6 Day War – died of leukaemia (carcinogenic cause) when NS was 12, a highly imaginative kid, 20 years later his brother endorses these suspicions

NS’s Early Life
NS born 1953, in Jordan for 3 years only and has few memories
NS’s mother had 4 children by his father, 3 more in her second marriage
NS and his sister Gigi both born with brittle bones, the 2 middle children, not this was due to inbreeding -his parents being first cousins
His sister in Syria wanted her children to marry cousins and it has re-manifested in the next generation
NS sent to England for treatment – probably with the intention that he would stay there, King Hussein financed the trip (possibly friends with father)
Children’s Hospital in Carshalton
NS there for 6 years, then children’s home for 7 years
Few memories of the hospital – possibly blanked out traumatic experience of being removal
Discovery in 1980s of how much he’d blanked out when contacted by young girl who had befriended and visited him from age 4 to 9 and had photos
Problem of forming attachments in hospital when people constantly move on
Parents visited once or twice a year – distant, romanticised figures
NS a romantic child who falls in love especially with 1 nurse who is then moved on
Other children also moved on frequently though he remembers some of them e.g. Robbie –abandoned in children’s home by his parents , NS’s rival because of his cuteness that constantly wooed NS’s visitors away, anecdote of discovery  years later that friend of NS’s Disabled girlfriend Tina was the sister of Robbie – her discovery of having an unknown Disabled brother, NS’s attempts to set up a meeting but she bottles out, reinforcing R’s sense of rejection

NS’s own family
Father takes job in London because he wants to be near NS and study electronics degree
NS’s brother and sister born in London
Mother blames father’s death not long after on shock of Gigi (G’s) birth and wants no contact with her, Mother disappears from contact till 1973 when she informs N of her remarriage, claims that she cannot tell her new husband of her Disabled children as he would divorce her
NS identifies mother with PLO fighter Leila [Khaled]
G put in same hospital and later same children’s home as NS
In 1982 NS is invited to Jordan by King H – mother threatens suicide, has told her family NS and G are dead, claims her marriage and new son’s university career are at risk and that she wants to prevent her Disabled children being forced to come back to her in Jordan and lose better life chances available in Britain, later he discovers this story is untrue e.g. her husband knew all along.
Gigi’s experience
G and NS’s time in children’s home overlaps by about 18 months only, he saw her when he went back during hols from Durwin and when he had finished but was unsettled (72-73), later she goes to same Coventry college, now they meet  1 or 2 times a year
She has just completed an MA following a film degree in Newcastle Specialises in Aid Development and Disability,
now called Jaz
Works on disability projects in Africa and India, his mother’s 2 Disabled kids are the most independent

Educational expectations
NS attended specialist school attached to children’s home, previous education sparse
Learning to read a problem – irrelevance of ‘Janet and John’ series to his experience, pirates better
Learns in children’s home because confined by broken limb to bedroom – separated from TV, other children – has to learn to read to pass the time, rips through books
He and his friend then become experiment – first children in the home to be entered for national exams – 2 CSEs (English and Art) considered enough – low levels of expectation
Pinnacle of achievement for a Disabled person is to be married and have children (for a girl), become a book-keeper / accountant (for a boy)
The ‘Dump’ – Sheltered Workshop
Expectation that most will end up in sheltered workshop
NS to go to Shropshire Durwin Training College and Sheltered Workshop for Cripples – the dump
Decision was made for him at 12 when his mother signed himself and Gigi over as wards of state – reinforces his discovery that she knew they would not be returned to Jordan
NS’s desire to go to art school
He is persuaded to go by promise of 1 day a week at local art school, one day a week tech college, when he gets there, after much asking he is told this is not an option, ‘If he was meant to do GCEs he would not have been sent there’
Works in office, typing invoices, bits of book-keeping
After one year – their guilt means he is allowed to do Cert
Office Studies one day a week at local tech – passport to freedom allows him to get place at Hereward College, also does 1 morn a wk with a local graphic artist, drawing bones, charts etc in a hospital –man embittered by the compromises of commercial art
NS makes this basis of later filmscript ‘King of the Incurables’

From the Durwin to Hereward
Met Richard Tomlinson (RT) on interview panel for Hereward
A friend Daisy (D) had sent him an ad bout a new college for Disabled people D was a carer, aspiring writer, herself a hunchback, a great
Normally after 3 years in the Dump people end up staying the rest of their lives, becoming staff, get a cubicle in staff block, rather than a shared room etc and if married a bungalow in ‘cripple village’ next door
All work in workshops – craftsmanship – joinery, tailoring, upholstery, surgical boots etc., contracts with hospitals etc
NS works in office so knows workers are being ripped off – paid £1 p.w. rising to £5 + a tailor-made suit once a year, authorities claim to be doing them a favour, many die there
NS determined not to and they keen to be rid of him but make no effort to find him a job, a place, a ‘lucky’ car accident gives him 3 months in hospital, Children’s home boss invites him back there

First attempts at writing / theatre
First 2 semi-professional attempts at writing – send material to local BBC Radio Oxford for ‘From Your Local Parish’ – asked to organise a Christmas show using kids in the home – 1972. D and NS write an alternative Nativity play with wild-west setting
Easter 1973 – NS hassles them again and writes one-person piece on religious theme – imagines he is the tree from which the cross was made, feels patronised, not paid for work
Hereward application and early theatre interest/ experience
Applies late to start Autumn 1973, Richard Tomlinson (RT) on panel asks him questions about theatre interest evident in application
This started in hospital – though they never left their beds they would improvise little shows from their beds, NS would organise them with about 7 kids
Influence was TV – a fantasy world with no relation to their hospital world cowboys, spies, adventurers
Shows: Ivanhoe, Robin Hood, William Tell, Z Cars, Bonanza, Wagon Train etc.
Soaps i.e. Coronation St is dreary and depressing
Influence of films shown on ward: Disney film on missionary who contracts leprosy and Joan of Arc influence NS’s desire for martyrdom, Battle of Agincourt from Olivier’s Henry V played backwards – emergence of NS’s surreal sense of humour, educational Disney films on VD and malaria
Visit to ward of Shakespearean troop in costume
Opens up possibility: this world of costumes and dressing up actually exists
Children’s home – plays in school hall – exts. from Macbeth, modern day Nativity play NS acts in it
Takes every opportunity to write, organise performances etc
In woodwork room racks of marionettes – he writes a play for them – an epic – all must have parts
Records the sound as not enough actors and is then free to operate them
On his turn to lead Sunday school he does drama, acting out scenes from the Bible – writer, producer, director, often star – Cecil B. de Mille epics
Seeing theatre and other new influences
Panto every Christmas in Oxford – as treat for cripples stars would come round to meet them – Bruce Forsyth, Des O’Connor, Jimmy Edwards, Bud Flanagan, etc
NS’s infectious laugh is noticed by Dickie Henderson
Only proper play seen The Importance of Being Earnest in West End with Flora Robson as Lady Bracknell
In Durwin he persuades teacher to do Mad Hatter’s tea party and plays Mad Hatter
Young Glaswegian carer – 18 year old on gap year – one of the most influential people for NS  – the first anti-monarchist he meets (the Home is very middle English, conservative, the Queen is Patron), a fiery working class Scot and Nationalist introduces NS to interesting music – Leonard Cohen, Janis Joplin, Dylan and books – Tolkien, John Fowles’ The Magus
Realises NS’s deep unhappiness about going to the Durwin, asks him what he wants to do
Challenges him to appy for drama schools – all reject him
Invisibility of people in wheelchairs in media except for Michael Flanders (MF)
Summer 1969 – PHAB (Physically Handicapped, Able-Bodied) Club residential course includes drama – perform a devised piece

Early rejections
Theatre group at Durwin – he writes 2 shows and stars in 1 of them: a piece based on Jimmy Clitheroe with a friend + 2 dwarves, 2 midgets
NS’s creative and organisational abilities prevent his expulsion and getting sent to mental hospital after trying to set fire to the Home
At Durwin contacts British Drama League later British Theatre Association (BTA) – applies for their course, raises the money and sends cheque, not telling of his disability, they accept him until they hear of his disability
Long-running struggle – cheque sent back and forth- until they inform the head of the Workshop
NS forced to write letter of apology and has always hated them despite them making an award to Graeae
Regular filmed documentaries at Durwin e.g. ‘Look at Life’ series shown in cinemas, shot at Durwin. Has attempted to locate ‘Music in Britain’ fronted by James Blades featuring the Home’s orchestra – later percussion band of which NS is part
During filming NS overhears conversation saying NS would make a good editor and applies for Film Editor traineeship at BBC – told he couldn’t cope with the wires
Writes to film companies and is told he’s need to start at the bottom as a runner and couldn’t…
RT excited at his coming as all this on CV, many students at Hereward apathetic about theatre – probably because those who were enthusiastic have had similar experiences to NS
Joins local amateur drama society who have seen his shows at Durwin – paints scenery to get a wheel in the door, wants to perform but is offered only prompting
Arrival at Hereward. Richard Tomlinson
RT a teacher of English and History, wife is actress Mavourneen Bryceland (since dead of cancer), daughter of major South African actress and close friend of Athol Fugard, Yvonne Bryceland
RT a performer – very camp, wanted to write and direct, was involved in disability education so exercised his passion there
Was already running a drama workshop, NS and RT become a great partnership
NS had written to MF until MF died in 1973 – and been advised – write your own material – anyone can write religious stuff / adapt others’ work – use what’s unique about you
But NS feels he has nothing to say – hasn’t had a life
But plants the idea that the way NS can make it is by telling his own unrepeatable stories about being Disabled
He finds RT speaks the same language
RT finds students stories fascinating and wants to stage them

Never Mind You’ll Soon Get Better
Never Mind You’ll Soon get Better is already underway when NS arrives, starts work as SM on sound effects
Show was a series of sketches, some humorous, some not about disability, education, religion
Probably about a third of the students at Hereward had become disabled through accidents – swimming, diving, horse-riding etc, stories of these formed part of show re-enacted or described
A young woman from local teacher training college meanwhile was working at Hereward as part of her course in teaching Drama – set up another show – rival to RT’s – NS got involved wrote sketches, starred in – came to dominate the group
RT saw there what NS was capable of and liked his surreal Monty Pythonish type of humour and wanted him to be in the next show
Decided to resurrect Never Mind You’ll Soon Get Better, going into greater depth, and tour it
Ready Salted Crips came about that way, NS had a big part in writing it and was in it, toured Warwickshire

Hereward College
A different kind of institution
Influence of 1960s on RT and other liberal young lecturers, some Marxists Interview, attitude of staff to black guy in wheelchair –Biafran, disabled in war
Activities of Daily Living (ADL), ratio of men (2/3) to women at Hereward – same as in children’s home, even more heavily male at Durwin
Women heavily segregated and chaperoned
Discussion of reasons for this – assumptions of women’s vulnerability and greater likelihood of Disabled women getting a partner, less likely to be in institutions
Sex frowned upon even at Hereward though some relationships occur – lack of opportunities – separation, had to be in unit by 11.00
Cast in first show equal in numbers despite this: 3 women – Judy, Kate and
Hazel, 3 men – Nabil, Philip and Maxwell  -reflects women’s interest in arts
Durwin – catchment was working class, Northern guys – often bitter, angry, looked down on the arts
NS accused of being a ‘poof’ because of his interest
He had to develop a bad, reckless persona as self-protection – another source of his interest in theatre/ performance
Ready Salted Crips
Radical show – Disabled people talking on critical issues – sex, relationships, religion, medical profession, family
Compared to the film My Left Foot as exemplifying the tendency of mainstream dramas to focus on the impact of disability on those surrounding the Disabled person
NS and others’ attempt to get Equity to outlaw casting non-Disabled actors in Disabled parts
Redressing the balance – disability as ‘our issue’ cf. position of women in the women’s movement – need to articulate their own reality
Sense of achievement with the show
Performances at Coventry College of Education, Coventry Cathedral – reaction of audiences – disturbed at humour, full houses because of novelty of the show
RT convinced of the need for something vital they could contribute – suggests setting up a company
NS’s hunger to do another play – a mainstream work and be judged against non-Disabled work

After Hereward – Surrey University and RT in Illinois
RT and NS leave Hereward at the same time, NS to Univ of Surrey, RT to Open Univ as consultant on disability issues and thence to Illinois where he resurrected R S Crips and calls it Sideshow
RT in US makes lots of contacts, Maths lecturer/ singer songwriter writes new songs for the show inc. ‘Blind, Drunk and Black’, a tour de force for performer in US
RT returns very keen to set up company (c1978), NS agrees to do so after graduation as long as he is not just a manager but is in the shows
They knew about the planned International Year of Disabled People (IYDP)
in 1981 and planned to be ready to take best advantage of it
NS in student theatre at Surrey inc. Hecate in Macbeth and parts in Capek’s The Insect Play, As You Like It and The Caucasian Chalk Circle
Students very open-minded
NS sub-edits student newspaper and involved in student TV channel
Radical politics
NS radicalised by new encounters at Surrey and by visit to Ireland c1974 – eye-opener about British imperialism
Discovers his Left leanings, previously brainwashed – influences had been conservative middle England, even at liberal Hereward

Creation of Graeae
Need for a name and logo, NS wanted a name with classical Greek resonance Reasons for choice of the name Graeae
1979 – RT fleshes out and develops Sideshow script
NS and RT also recruiting a cast of 6 – 3f,3m, with different disabilities Difficult as those with enough talent were generally successful and in work, not prepared to leave – little interest
A solicitor donated his time in establishing a formal company, 2 rich friends of RT donated money
Rehearsal space offered in London
Company members work voluntarily – Will even comes up from Cornwall – sometimes travel is paid, not always
NS was based in Aldershot but had a car, Marian was married with a family and a job, her muscular dystrophy means she needs a personal assistant (PA), Alix is London-based but only free weekends,  Jag [Plah] is London-based and has a car, Elaine is a blind dancer
Workshops and auditions held in day centres to recruit cast members prove a challenge, only Jag recruited that way, many Disabled people demoralised and brainwashed
Tour to US and Canada
International Conference is to be held in Winnipeg as prelude to IYDP, want to be perform there as a launch-pad, work starts in earnest
To justify the travel costs the tour is enlarged, starting with an invitation to Illinois
RT’s contact sets up an intensive tour in Illinois – 27 performances in 23 days –all at different venues, a baptism by fire
Rehearsals start Feb 1980, show devised and scripted by RT
They need a couple of venues in Britain to try out the show before the tour –difficult to find
U of Surrey book them – NS well-remembered inc. for a peace mural he organised painting, which still survives
A community theatre books them and also the U of London Union where they have rehearsed
RT directs, no real design – just props, table and chair, stands for coats, hats and masks – small, cheap, contained
A deaf woman is SM, Marian’s PA is ASM, cast take leave of absence from their jobs

NS’s  Living and Work Situation
Had finished degree in Politics, Psychology and Sociology in 1979 and was then homeless – Univ allow him to stay on in accommodation till Feb 1980 when he is offered  a council flat
Working for the owner of an ad agency he had met when the man came to the children’s home to create a new image for NCH, he had encouraged NS inc. in going to Univ rather than Poly, he was a Tory though and hated NS’s politics
Took NS on as trainee Account Executive, after 5 weeks NS approached him for sponsorship, then for 3 and a half weeks unpaid leave
He lectures NS to choose between theatre and real work, NS resigns and goes on the dole, doing admin for the company
Lack of media interest in Britain even inc. ITV’s Link programme.
Success in US and NS’s career breaks
US media loves Graeae – talk shows, radio shows, also Canada, many Disabled people in audiences

NS – 2 key career breaks:
BBC Open University offer him his first professional TV job presenting a documentary on ‘The Handicapped Person in the Community’, and Canadian documentary film company ask him to front a documentary on cerebral palsy, Xmas 1980
NS gets Equity card
Breakthrough also for the company
East-West Theatre Company
Shape-funded – had done disability work before, Simon Grenville (SG), director, was ‘a mate of a mate of a mate’ who’d worked with Theatre of Lies puppet company
NS got the job while still homeless, living in a squat in Kennington – SG auditioned him there
Piece was improvised on a basic structure of a list of scenes, 3 performers
SG had done workshops for Shape in day centres, psychiatric hospitals, prisons and been inspired by this experience to create Crutch, it also went into theatre venues (1981)

Graeae development
Returned from Winnipeg June/ July
Setting up of Autumn tour – NS as organiser despite lack of experience
Aim to play Fri, Sat, Sun in each area e.g. Brighton, Yorks
US/ Canadian reviews reinforce venues interest in the company
BBC, Observer and Guardian are also interested because of the US seal of approval
Theatre of Lies gave them a list of theatres to approach: in London – Soho Poly, Jackson’s Lane, Oval House, NS’s discovery of how things work
NS spoke to Kate Crutchley at Oval and settled on dates. She asked ‘Would £100 do?’ When he is silent wondering where they’d get it from she says ‘OK £200 but that’s the most’ and he only then realises she is going to pay them! – NS has come from a background where you pay the venue.
Lit Mgr Bill Ash at Soho Poly says ‘Would a week do?’ Where he expected 3 days
All the press come inc. Observer who cover them in the colour supplement and BBC
Arena who then make a programme about them
Lots of key people saw it: Tim Supple – it leads eventually to NS’s casting in Haroun and the Sea of Stories
Jonathan Miller – it leads to NS’s casting in The Emperor
Nigel Evans – it leads to 3 or 4 film/ TV parts
Mike Jarvis and his wife – it leads to NS’s casting as Sil in Dr Who
Disagreement in Graeae over Arena
Graeae nearly emerges stillborn due to disagreement between NS and RT over BBC’s Arena
ITV Link, small disability-oriented programme has shown interest in a feature on Graeae
This was not a problem till after Arena, Nigel Williams (NW), the BBC producer, asks Alan Yentob (AY) if he can make a whole doc on the company, not just a 10 minute round-up piece
This is agreed provided the BBC are given exclusivity i.e. Link cannot air until after Arena has gone out, Link are unwilling to be scooped and lose their audience
NS feels Graeae must honour their commitment to the disability-oriented programme rather than jettison it for the mainstream Arena
RT and others see company’s one-week booking at riverside Studios and depending on the Arena exposure and would be jeopardised if Arena didn’t happen
Sat night 6/12/80 Graeae company agree to vote on it, NS loses by one vote and leaves,  He then speaks to NW and AY who back down, but Link pulls out anyway due to bad feeling in the company
Disagreement has a permanent affect on NS and RT’s relationship

Graeae continued
In May 1981 company gets ACGB funding
A show at Aldershot gets them invited to be resident company at the West End Community Arts Centre there – free rehearsal space, office, electricity, space to premieres shows
The manager uses their existence to secure the centre’s funding, Graeae get a secure base from which to establish the company
NS (and others) contracted for 6 months to develop a professional Sideshow
Graeae tour Sideshow and develop 3D, they take both to the [Edinburgh] Fringe Festival
NS involved in some development of M3, Junction 4
He left because he was offered Crutch with East-West and he didn’t want to take someone else’s place in the company by staying on retainer
NS also thought there ought to be a two-pronged attack, not a ghetto – not just creating Disabled theatre in specific artistic venues, companies, for specific audiences, but also infecting the mainstream from within so non-Disabled theatre is exposed to Disabled actors

Company Structure and Management
Originally RT is Artistic Director, there was a Board (Company Limited by Guarantee)
NS remains on the Board after leaving the company
RT did not want to commit professionally to Graeae full-time – he wants to keep the security of his proper job – at OU, then Head of a special school in Kent, he is not secure enough as an artist
Graeae hire Nic Fine as Director for 2 -3 years, there are no Disabled directors
They then hire someone appalling – NS helped appoint her, initially ‘taken in’ but she is a ‘body fascist’  e.g. insists that Jag Plah have someone speaking his lines, objecting to his spastic voice, many other horror stories, her tenure is part of the reason for the decision to then make Graeae a collective and get rid of the role of Artistic Director
SC asks about breach with Graeae and working process for Sideshow
It was a temporary break- moral victory was enough NS went back till they parted on good terms at end 1981
Show performed at Feb 1981 at Riverside
Arena went ahead as a 40 or 50 min doc, Link backed down because they did not want to capture bad feeling in the company – they would have preferred to have filmed them in a ‘state of innocence’
[SC asks if a Disabled theatre company has to be purer than pure?]
They didn’t want a negative image of the first Disabled company, especially as they were the only one: squabbling would look bad and do harm to the movement, therefore he understands
Richard Tomlinson (RT) and NS buried the hatchet but friendship was never quite the same
Maybe something died in each, legacy of cynicism and disillusion was a great pity – having to make such a choice in an ungenerous industry so early on

Culmination of several years work beginning with amateur shows at Hereward College – Never Mind You’ll Soon Get Better and Ready Salted Crips – same formula – issue-based sketches – relationships with family, employers, sex – dealt with jokily – lampooned – seaside postcard manner
Medical issues loomed large, Monty Python influence e.g. show included funny walk competition parodying ‘Ministry of Silly’ walks – real funny walks by Disabled performers disturb audience, cause discomfort and force questioning – a  frequent weapon
Never Mind You’ll Soon Get Better was more serious, possibly NS injected vein of sarcastic comedy
Attempting to enter Ready Salted Crips for National Student Drama Festival
(NSDF) – but they didn’t rate show – possibly because actors started laughing during robotic basket-weaving sketch – inexperience as performers
CliveWolf adjudicator rejected it, possibly also he thought public were not yet ready, instead NS and another Disabled actor performed The Dumb Waiter –which was also not picked
RT’s work in Illinois, Disabled provision in US vs UK
RT refined the show towards the end of NS’s time at College
Wrote ‘Blind Crippled and Black’, a parody of the well-known song
RT became Special Tutor for Disabled students at Illinois, certain parts of US inc. U of Illinois very advanced in provision for Disabled people – campus had accessible transport, accommodation and in 1975-76 there were 150 Disabled students cf. Britain where usually universities had one or none
U of Surrey claimed to be adapted and accessible but wasn’t – ramps were actually designed for laundry – things did improve when NS got there
RT formulated a script from Disabled people’s source material, explored and refined in rehearsal – collective piece, US version changed apart from that song which became a show-stopper performed by a black performer

Graeae after Riverside
Riverside version was tighter, first performed May, International Year of the
Disabled, first time company was paid professional Equity fees
Riverside combined with Arena got him and Graeae off the ground
NS managed Graeae after Riverside as they became professional but left later that year for work
He felt a two-pronged attack was necessary – working within Disability-focused groups like Graeae, with sympathetic audiences but also within the mainstream
Possibility NS was too dominant in the company in collectively-minded times
NS got best reviews and this affected other company members
RT a big, blustery confident guy but insecure – he didn’t want to take a risk
He remained involved in writing scripts but people had got bored with his style
NS didn’t want to be Artistic Director as too dominant a role, NS continues on the Board
Best time for Graeae was when based in Aldershot – rent-free offrice use of theatre, electricity, store, rehearsal room, there for 18 months, NS only one living locally, complaints from others about travel, company decided to move to London
Artistically still hiring non-disabled directors as no Disabled people with enough skill or experience, those who could have done so were too frightened Nic Fine, South African director, friend of RT, brought in to direct M3, J4, non disabled, stayed 6 months
Problem of finding Artistic Director (AD) with vision, company hires a woman, non-Disabled, very good in interview, NS can’t remember her name [Caroline Noh], she was ‘a disaster’, ‘didn’t like Disabled people but feared them’ Refused to allow Jag Plah to speak on stage except with an interpreter as she did not like his ‘spastic’ speech
NS feels responsible for her appointment and wants to leave management, proposing that Graeae become a collective, also in response to constant complaints of company members against AD, admin, Board
This is at a time when Disabled people were finding a voice and increased political consciousness
They were a very vocal company, maybe more political than artistic
They conjured with constitution and ACGB possibly turning blind eye to turn company in to a collective – but it became a worse shambles

M3, Junction 4  1
NS was in 3D and would have been in M3, J4, directed by Nic Fine (NF) but it became a bad compromise of what he had proposed end 1980
They were discussing going to Edinburgh
NS had a sense of the evil of Thatcher and the future of Disabled people and his discovery of the Disabled holocaust – gas chambers invented to kill Disabled people – a history not taught
NS’s sense that this may return – logical consequences of Thatcherism with its view of humans as functional monetary units
NS’s view of a future Britain – Nazis wanting to kill Disabled people or get them back into institutions
Prospective end of funding under Thatcherite monetarism for Disabled people to live independent lives – attendance and mobility allowance, home helps, following threat to subsidised theatre and art, desocialising society for (Falklands) war
Disabled people as unnecessary luxury – get them back into institutions then kill them
NS drawing on experience of apartheid, RT writing some sections but generally show was put together by indirect means through improve
There was opposition to his -precise idea and compromise leads to work being split into 2 plays
M3, Junction 4  2
Set in Aldershot, where the army camp has been turned into a concentration camp for Disabled people forced to return there, Commandant played as a man with a wooden leg whose secret disability is revealed at the end – his rejection of his own disability feeds his rejection cf. Goebbels – Disabled person within all of us – which is worse disability of the soul or physical/ sensory disability?
A friend’s envy for NS’s disability and sense of his own alienation, spiritual disenfranchisement.
NS felt the play was sloppy in writing, indifferently performed, over-protective of the audience from the theme

Frankenstein and Not Too Much to Ask
was terrible, NS felt – Jag not allowed to speak for himself – good concept but amateurish
Adaptation of Villette [Charlotte Bronte] as Not Too Much to Ask by Patsy Rodenburg [later Head of Voice at NT] – made no impression on him – amateur dramatics – why was Graeae doing it?
Discussion of lack of contexts for training and access to drama schools
Politics of Disability and arts
Immense outpouring of disability arts and creativity in early 80s
Disability Arts in London established
This work passed under radar of Thatcherism, focused on miners, unions and outsourcing in NHS
Attacks on theatre focused on socialist theatre and TIE because they offered an alternative view of history, ACGB had started to remove funds from these areas, Disability and minority arts seen as too small and insignificant but became v exciting and influential on mainstream – indie voices – emergence of disability cabarets and stand-up / sit-down comics
Compared to The Young Ones and The Comic Strip  – red brick university humours as opposed to earlier Oxbridge – more accessible and linked to working class experience. Barbara Lesiki [?] an example.
Lots of visual arts and sculture by Disabled artists and new Disability-led organisations, splinter groups, deaf theatre companies like  [British] Theatre of the Deaf (pre- Graeae)
Non- Disabled-led charities threatened unless they changed management structure
NS argued not to exclude non-disabled – ‘we need them, can’t afford to alienate them and become ghettoised’
RT the victim of something like that in Graeae – written out of history, not invited to 21st anniversary of company, NS refuses to give keynote unless RT shares the platform
NS’s ambivalence over 21st and then 30th anniversary of Graeae – he had wanted them only to be needed for 5 years before changing the cultural map so they would not be needed, would be unnecessary as drama schools would have changed, Disabled writers and directors would be getting work on
At 30 years, though, Graeae is about the only institution offering training to Disabled people and becomes an excuse for RADA etc not to address the issue, only now, for example is the Young Vic offering a 6 month scheme to train one Disabled director – and it’s a one-off

NS’s involvement in Disability arts / activism
Speaking at conferences, seminars, workshops
Did SHAPE course Acting Different on workshops for people with special needs
Helped set up Fair Play with Seona Reid, pressure group to campaign for theatre and TV to offer opportunities to Disabled people
Richard Attenborough (RA) commission on lack of opportunities for Disabled people leads to setting up centre at Leicester University: Richard Attenborough Centre for Disability and the Arts NS a patron
He agreed because he wanted to make a film of The First to Go
After initial burst, RA lost interest
Arts venue for exhibitions, some training, don’t produce theatre
Emphasis today is generally on people with learning difficulties, where Disabled people are in control and articulate they are less likely to get money

NS’s career after Graeae
reformulation of first paid job 1981with East-West
In 1983 scripted by Nigel Gregory from improvs – three-hander
Walter (1982) first professional film starring Ian McKellen, opened first night of Channel 4, got NS an agent
First NS had fronted OU doc The Handicapped Person in the Community, Producer Ann Poynton had seen him in Canada
Fronts Canadian doc on cerebral palsy, 3 jobs got him Equity card
1985 Graeae brought him back to fill a role
Godspell with PATH Productions, 1986-7
A dodgy set-up – amateur but with 1 or 2 professional actors, Jag had worked with them, run by an amateur dramatic do-gooding family
Cynical operation, daughters wrote plays, main roles played by non-Disabled friends and family members
NS agreed to play Jesus but stipulated all should be paid and there should be a 3-week rehearsal period and a proper run, not just eves and weekends Compromised on all being paid £70 p.w.
Funded through charity, played Jeanetta Cochrane Theatre

Dr Who
Playing Sil
Invited to try for role in Dr Who
Director clear it was not an ugly monster, finding the right laugh crucial
Colin Baker was Dr Who, NS had previously suggested himself as the new Doctor
Character not killed off but returned in another story, also a third script recently rediscovered and recorded as an audio piece for CD release
Sil was a creature of the 1980s, an inter-galactic capitalist and con merchant trading in video nasties, snuff movies etc., arch manipulator of money and power NS saw Sil as responsible for Thatcher
BBC criticised and punished for his creation by cancellation of Dr Who shortly afterwards

Skin Horse, 1983
Film, came about because of producer of Walter, Nigel Evans (NE)
NS had made The Silent Minority on psychiatric care and abuse in institutions – children locked away
Walter, based on David Cook novel on man with learning difficulties, directed by Stephen Frears (SF)
NS asked to play Ben Gunn
SF’s difficulties communicating with NS, possibly due to his own son’s disability
Film for Channel 4 opening night, breakfast scene – food was revolting and inedible – NS attempted to improvise his way out of the scene by starting a food fight – did not go well with SF but NE approved – decided NS was a kindred spirit
Now invited NS to participate in doc on sex and disability – not happy with the material so asked NS for input
NS wrote a piece in response and was paid £100 and additional £100 to film it. NE asked him for more and eventually NS almost took over writing while NE took over a director as well as producer
It went out as by NE and NS, won an award from Royal Television Society
Not a polite documentary – about how Disabled people are seen sexually
NS used style which would later influence video diaries
NE then asked him to do something on disability and religion, 1989

Working Hearts, Graeae
NS only involved for one third of tour, felt like an outsider and hated it
Had pissed off another actor and was ostracised by cast
Only SM and one actor would speak to him
Piece was scripted by Noel Greig and was about sheltered workshops for Disabled people
These, making plastic flowers, packing plastic knives and forks, sticking teeth in dog combs etc. eventually died out for Disabled people in the late 70s/ early 80s but are still there for people with learning difficulties
NS was reading from script

The Emperor, workshops, Royal Court and Born of Fire.
[SC asks about whether his casting was a radical decision about integrated casting]
NS had done psychology degree and is stunned that Jonathan Miller, the director, had asked for him
He’d seen NS in Arena as had Michael Hastings
It wasn’t ideological about being inclusive – he’d seemed the right actor for the job
1986, Born of Fire was the same – casting director suggested him – director had not realised he was Disabled
Offered a part as ‘the Dwarf’, originally written as a character who could walk – NS said he could crawl and film could enhance that. Filmed in Turkey Director Jamal Dehlevi (JD) lived in Camden – asked for character development suggestions, NS suggests a less negatively-loaded name for the character – ‘the Silent One’
Film was an end-of-world supernatural piece – a British flautist (Peter Firth) can play in a way that can cause a nuclear explosion – music to be used to engulf the world
NS’s character is half-human, half supernatural, abandoned living in caves, trying to give birth to a demon, NS encouraged JD to change the ending rewriting the script so that NS’s character ends up helping hero defeat Satan – is more positive
Lots of problems with white racist crew, complaints that JD was megalomaniac
NS had a personal assistant – his friend Harry
Resonance of film with NS’s personal history and Turkish background, not a commercial success, went over-budget and over-time
Conflicts between actors and crew, but NS excitement – his second movie and exotic foreign location

The Emperor
Five actors, 4 black + NS, all played Haile Selassie but NS played him most
Buzz around the Soho, Ethiopia in the news because of Band Aid and famine
Lots of celebrities come to the show – Bob Geldof, Eric Idle, Paul Simon,
Bertolucci, Zeffirelli, Pinter, Arthur Miller, Faye Dunaway (who NS had worked with on Raspberry Ripple) but it didn’t get NS work, he was considered for
Little Buddha but Bertolucci liked him but didn’t want to cast him as NS had been in City of Joy, another Indian movie, instead they cut the character
Later work it led to:
Haroun and the Sea of Stories (1998) – as Tim Supple saw it, also possibly Salman Rushdie
Iranian Nights by Tariq Ali and Howard Brenton, written in response to the fatwa, initiated by Art Malik, a mate of Tariq Ali

Raspberry Ripple.
Through Bill Ash (BA), Literary Adviser at Soho Poly, then doing lunchtime theatre NS met the writer
BA interested in disability issues because of Graeae, BA phoned NS about a play by a Disabled writer [Gurmit Casbah?] who had muscular dystrophy, intense very sex-oriented play about frustration, NS met him
GC got in touch about his later script with a part for Ian Drury (ID) – by now a friend of NS through his involvement in the IYDP, after ID ‘came out’ as Disabled – they were on the same chat show talking about lack of opportunities for Disabled people

My Left Foot
NS’s campaign against it due to Daniel Day-Lewis playing a Disabled role
NS a loan voice trying to whip up protests
He considered making bomb threats at cinemas – as had happened with The Emperor, due to opposition by Rastafarians and Ethiopian royal family to a Disabled person playing their god, Rastas protested throughout the run, especially when it transferred to the main house, death threats, being chased in his car in Brixton

Raspberry Ripple 2
GC’s filmscript, ID interested in the lead
NS invited to BBC but now script is by Rupert Hazleden, former VP of Columbia Pictures, ‘inspired by a play by GC’
GC interview for Film Magazine about his struggle to get it made – eventually sold it, NS sees this as a mistake – it had lost all its bite – was cute and mediocre
Director was Nigel Finch, GC got Faye Dunaway to agree to be in it as the gangster matron of a sheltered workshop
She was living in London at the time and in a play at the Hampstead Theatre.  NS asked for the main part but (aged 32) was told he was too old, he played the ‘bad crip’
John Gordon Sinclair played lead, a mild bourgeois Disabled person
Sheila Reid also playing Disabled (this was before My Left Foot)

NS’s experience playing Shakespeare: Crutch had opened with Winter of Discontent speech from Richard III – mocking non-Disabled people jumping on IYDP bandwagon
NS had played Macbeth at university
Approached in 1987 by artistic director of Cleveland Theatre Company, based Stockton
Then offered lead in 7-part children’s TV drama Micro Man by writer / director/ producer who’d worked with NS on a Granada drama, a 5-min fundraiser for Reports Action, character lived inside a computer and took children back in time
The director wanted him, dates clashed with Hamlet, they battled out the dates but Granada had final veto and said ‘No’ to NS

7:84 England
NS approached by Gavin Richards to do a GLC-funded show Britannia Rig (NS had met him through Walter, Westminster City council injuncted the GLC to stop them spending money on the play
It was a play on the Thatcherite theft of North sea oil and was to have been set in a big top – on a small oil rig, within a swimming pool
Big cast, after 3 weeks work it was halted and they went unpaid, they occupied County Hall for a week to try to get payment inc. Ken Livingstone’s press office but lost because they couldn’t too visibly oppose County Hall,  Equity took GLC to court

South Africa bloodbath protest 1985
NS doused self in red paint on steps of South Africa House and rolled in it – apartheid bloodbath
Photos published in the Guardian, Peace News City Limits, police took him away
May have been partly why he lost Micro Man, Granada said that it was because children would be frightened because NS was in wheelchair and wouldn’t watch later episodes
Hamlet 2
Good success, some felt it made particular sense with a Disabled person Disability gave Claudius a reason to kill his nephew and Ophelia’s family a reason for their opposition to her relationship with him, though a prince Futuristic setting, electric wheelchair gives mobility in fight scene – NS ‘out-ramboed Rambo in aggressiveness and mobility’
£500 ACE grant allows him to train in fencing with a Disabled fencing champion
Hamlet: one of NS’s proudest moments

New Graeae policy
Ewan Marshall’s (EM) appointment as Artistic Director of Graeae
NS impressed that EM’s first task at Graeae was to visit him for 3 -4 hour meeting – wanted to take Graeae back to fundamentals
NS wanted: Graeae to do classics
Graeae should only employ Disabled people but could collaborate with non-Disabled companies
Graeae did not need to do issue-based work as the very fact of having a Disabled person on stage makes the work issue-based – a Disabled Ayatollah, Jesus etc gives a message in itself
Should do 4 shows a year – a non-Disabled writer, a disabled writer, a Disabled production of a classic, a Christmas show

Flesh Fly – playing Vol
Ubu – NS workshopped it but cried off – not good at comedy
Playing Volpone – NS not keen but then saw Michael Gambon play the part at the National and thought he could do better
EM commissions a version, Flesh Fly, from Trevor Lloyd
Meanwhile he and Jack Klaff had done some workshops on his Disabled people and Nazi Germany workshops and EM encouraged him to write it
NS wrote a treatment and was then given a commission from ACE – part of the reason he turned down Ubu – and his insecurity
[SC asks about the radical embrace of grotesquerie in Flesh Fly etc] NS: great thing was EM understood all that – believing Disabled people should not be shy and embarrassed but show warts and all – get rid of quaint, nice, pathetic imagery imposed on Disabled people. Disabled people’s aesthetics more Fellini, Bunuel, Ken Russell rather than Dicken’s Christmas Carol. ‘Celebration of  our difference and undermining expectations’ Beyond Quasimodo – rejecting negative images – NS turned down NS at Croydon Warehouse because of its sad ending – they refused to change it

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