I studied at Birmingham College of Art. In 1969 me and a crowd of like-minded individuals travelled down to London.
It was a great time to come to London. 1969 was the year The Rolling Stones played London’s Hyde Park for free. There was a crowd of over 500,000 people gathered to see them, and some had started queuing days before. London was electric and alive, and somehow, it just seemed sunnier than Birmingham.
I managed to land a great job on the newly launched Sun Newspaper as an illustrator…The pay was good and I worked there for several years, meanwhile rubbing shoulders with all things theatre at the Oval House. This happened to be the same time that The Pip Simmons Theatre Group, an infamous ‘intensely physical’ company had re-invented itself.
Pip Simmons and Rudi Engelander
The group that re-formed was, with one or two exceptions, a company of new recruits and I was one of them.
The company had re-invented itself in 1974 with a residency in Rotterdam which produced two so-called horror shows. One was a version of Dracula, the other An Die Musik, a true ‘horror story’. An Die Musik was a disturbing representation of the Nazi’s extermination of the Jews. This was perhaps The Pip Simmons Theatre Group’s best-remembered work, commemorating the 30th anniversary of the liberation of Holland from the German occupation.
I performed with the group for 10 years. I had a camera. I took photos. I wrote postcards to my family, telling them what we were doing.
We rehearsed in London and then the touring would start. We created an average of two shows a year. The tours started in the UK and continued in Europe. We worked without a script and the shows were built out of improvisation, research and hard work.
Emil Wolk doing a handstand on the roof of Milan Cathedral
Rod Beddall was the perfect candidate for Dracula, he could sing, play guitar, piano and even the tin whistle if required. He was prepared to shave his head and wear fishnet stockings & a leather jockstrap, and really, that’s where the journey began. There were a couple of us from Birmingham and I tagged along.
I ended up becoming a vampire in the very first show that the re-invented Pip Simmons Theatre Group performed – Dracula.
Paris 1977 All photos © Sheila Burnett