The artists who have been part of the Gate’s history make a formidable list that includes Sarah Kane, Katie Mitchell, Sophie Okonedo, and Stephen Daldry.
We are working with Madhia Hussein and Yunique Enim Aduousei from Royal Holloway University to unpack and digitalise our treasure trove of theatrical history.
Each week, starting in September 2019, we will share a piece of material from our archive from each year of our history.
To celebrate our 40th anniversary, today we start: 40 Years in 40 Weeks!
Here we will unpack our trailblazing history with a weekly release from our archive.
Today, let’s rewind to 1979…
Our 1st Artistic Director, Lou Stein, turned down an assistantship at the National Theatre to create an artistic hub for upcoming artists. For this he needed experienced people. The culture of British fringe at the time was working for nothing, and as a result, practitioners were either not paid or compensated through profit share. And so, he placed an ad in Time Out London and the Gate Theatre was born!
With the focus on producing international plays, the very first was At Swim Two Birds by Irish playwright, Flann O’ Brien. The play reviewed well and the Gate started to get a name for itself – including support from Mick Jagger and John Cleese!
The year is 1980 – Staunch Poets and Players, a group of seven actors, dancers, writers and musicians came together to perform Gather In Your Name at the Gate Theatre.
The play was written by group lead, Don Kinch, who later opened the African People’s Theatre in Birmingham.
Gather In Your Name used music, choreography and dance to reflect the inner lives of black people living in Britain and their relationship with Africa and the Caribbean, which was the troupe’s mission throughout their work, performing to mixed audiences throughout Britain.
FUN FACT! Alex Pascall OBE was the musical director on this show, who is known for being one of the developers of Notting Hill Carnival and as one of the first regular Black radio voices in the UK on BBC’s Black Londoners.
He had this to say about his time with this production, ‘productions like Don’s Gather In Your Name, would never have come to the stage without theatres like The Gate, added to this were the anxieties Black audiences had in finding staged plays that related to them culturally. Those were challenging times. I recall a Black cultural exponent arguing with Don about the play and a number of us being concerned, but together we found a way and established common ground for understanding and the play was staged.
It is from such small theatres that today’s playwrights, actors and producers managed to find common ground to establish a presence and the craft of their productions.
Don and Staunch were active in pursing numerous issues to break down barriers within and beyond with challenging presentations, peep through the past decades, and generations of today would realise as they explore routes to the future where we were to inform themselves of today.’
As skinhead culture gained popularity, riots spread through Brixton and Liverpool.
In response to these turbulent times the Gate’s AD, Lou Stein, programmed Treatment by Jonathan Moore, ‘the Johnny Rotten of British Theatre’ (Evening Standard).
Set in south London, Treatment follows Liam who is part of a violent street gang but wants to escape. The Independent called it ‘one of the most disturbing and exhilarating plays in London’
After Treatment’s run at the Gate, it became a BBC film in 1984, starring writer Jonathan Moore as Liam himself.
Since 1979, the Gate has been interested in reflecting the political grassroots movements of the time.
Our 2019 Manifesto for our Future states, ‘Don’t portray the world, change it’. We strive to create relevant work that asks questions about now.
It’s that time of the week again! #40Years40Weeks
Did you know: In 1982 The Gate opened an off-shoot theatre above The Latchmere Pub in Battersea Park! This was London’s first purpose built fringe theatre, called the Gate at the Latchmere.
The first play Lou Stein premiered at the Gate at the Latchmere was Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, an adaptation of the book by Hunter S. Thompson. A semi-autobiographical novel, it tells the story of journalist Raoul Duke and his attorney Dr Gonzo chasing the American Dream in Las Vegas through a drug-induced haze. Above is a letter from Lou Stein to writer Hunter S. Thompson pitching his idea for the play.
Hunter S. Thompson famously told Lou Stein, ‘If I don’t like what you’ve done with the book, I’m going to tear your theatre apart.’ You can read about Stein’s experience working with Thompson in his article here: https://www.prospectmagazine.co.uk/…/my-time-with-hunter-s-…
Thankfully Hunter S. Thompson did like the show, and Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas was a huge success, later transferring to the West End! In 2014 Lou Stein re-imagined it again for Vault Festival. Below is a copy of the original poster, a production image and an article in Time Out by Fear and Loathing illustrator, Ralph Steadman.
FUN FACT! After the close of the Gate at the Latchmere, it was relaunched in 2002 as Theatre 503!
We start off #BlackHistoryMonth with a dip back into our archive.
Today we celebrate the success of Eugene O’Neill’s play, Emperor Jones, which first graced our stage in 1983, featuring Reggae artist Barry Ford. It tells the story of Brutus Jones, an African American man posing as Emperor of a small Caribbean island after escaping a murder jail sentence. Musicians, TV actors, even a real life witch doctor were brought in to bring Emperor Jones to life. Reggae artist Barry Ford helped create the production’s music and played drums on stage! Barry Ford’s reggae band, Merger, addressed political topics surrounding racial injustice and his addition to the Emperor Jones project was a perfect fit for not only O’Neill’s play but Lou Stein’s vision for it. Ford is still very much involved with his music and mission having performed his ‘Rebel’ Reggae in 2014’s Notting Hill Carnival (which can be watched here: https://youtu.be/QcK-I5ibN1I)
It’s time to dip into the archive again. In 1984, the Gate brought the devastating animation, When The Wind Blows by Raymond Briggs (The Snowman), to the stage.
The story followed elderly couple, Jim and Hilda, whose lives are rocked by a nuclear attack on the UK by the Soviet Union.
By adapting this book for the stage, Stein was responding to the fear of nuclear war that was gripping the country.
Below is the prop list for When The Wind Blows.
Today, addressing man’s impact on nature is more important than ever, and we recently pledged in our Manifesto to only use 20% new materials in our productions. This is part of our Green Gate initiative to make work whilst endeavouring to act as responsible global citizens.
1985 said a sad goodbye to Lou Stein and an excited hello to new Artistic Director, Giles Croft.
‘When I first arrived in London in 1982 The Gate was already established as an artistic powerhouse and it was high on my list of theatres at which I wished to work. Within weeks of my taking the post, a fire at Bradford football ground left 56 people dead and 256 injured which led to the closure of the theatre. The hiatus proved to be an opportunity to plan a reopening with a fanfare. The play I decided upon was ‘Danny and the Deep Blue Sea’ by the little known John Patrick Shanley who was to gain international recognition two years later with an Oscar nomination for his screenplay of Moonstruck. The show was a great success and set us off on a course that was to be maintained for the next five years.’
This never before seen extract of the script particularly stands out with its descriptive imagery, invoking the fragility of nature and human brutality, themes prevalent in the work of the Gate.
Although an American play, 1985 saw riots in London and Liverpool which provided a backdrop to characters, Danny and Roberta’s suffering.
In 1986 Margaret Thatcher introduced a number of policies that directly impacted the lives of the UK’s female population.
In response, the Gate programmed a set of three female-led plays.
Artistic Director Giles Croft programmed pre-First World War play, ‘How the Vote was Won’, as the first play of the series. It was directed by Tamara Hinchco.
Women’s suffrage had been a predominately a middle class movement, and so the second play of the series, Evelyn Glover’s ‘A Chat with Mrs Chicky’, was chosen as a notable example of working class women speaking for equality which resonated in the 80s.
Last was Inez Benusan’s The Apple, which examined equality in the household and sexual harassment in the workplace.
The last line of the proposal states ‘If written today, perhaps it would have a different, happier ending’, referring to the 1980s Womens Movement.
In the rise of the #MeToo movement last year we are left wondering how the ending would have panned out if written today too.
In 1987 AD, Giles Croft programmed a season of Japanese art and theatre. The season included play readings, films, music and even seminars!
First up were the play readings known as the Modern Noh Plays by Japanese writer, Yukio Mishima. There were mixed reviews on this collaboration but Croft insisted on going forward and the season overall was a highly successful one!
This ‘ambitious and adventurous season’ (Time Out 1987) set in stone the Gate’s international mark on British Theatre, being one of the first theatres in London to stick by international work and programme whole seasons around it!
Here you can see the original proposal for the season, a review in the Evening Standard, and a production image from an old newspaper clipping.
In 1988 the Gate produced Hotel Vietnam by Phil Melling, in commemoration of the end of the Vietnam war. As a scholar in American Literature he focused on the Puritan ideology that he saw crucial to the American mission in Vietnam.
In this letter to AD Giles Croft, scholar Jeff Walsh said the play was one of the most ‘stimulating, lively and well informed’ pieces on the Vietnam War that he had ever seen and requested for the play to be staged at the conference in Manchester Polytechnic.
In this second letter, another American scholar, Warren French, praises the accuracy within the play and congratulates the production’s understanding of the nuances of the war.