During my second year at the Watermill Theatre, Elizabeth Sweeting who was one of the board directors - and Administrator of Oxford Playhouse - introduced me to Gordon McDougall, Artistic Director of the new company that succeeded Frank Hauser's Meadow Players (1956-1973) in 1974. I was appointed part-time Finance Officer for Anvil Productions Ltd, concurrent with my jobs at 69 Theatre Company and the Watermill. I worked first with Brien Chitty, the interim manager, then two administrative directors: David Aukin and Nicolas Kent.
This was my first experience in an all-touring company. Apart from compiling production accounts and quarterly returns to the Arts Council (grant: £40,000 in 1974-5), I was minute secretary to the Directors - being an annalist has always been an absorbing part of theatre management, although the skills of a chronicler do not seem so important today. I was also responsible for monitoring contracts issued by the theatres, preparing actors' contracts and commissioning agreements.
The core touring theatres, all within easy drive-time of Oxford, were Warwick Arts Centre, Harlow Playhouse, Wyvern Theatre Swindon, Cambridge Arts Theatre and the Nuffield Theatre at Southampton. Most shows opened at Oxford Playhouse. Other theatres were sold productions when we could squeeze more value out of the production on guarantees, such as the Empire Theatre at Sunderland and the Theatre Royal at Bury St Edmunds. Almost all weeks were on fees of approximately £1,500, although at Oxford, where the Company received small revenue grants from the Oxfordshire County Council, the City of Oxford and the University, it rented the Playhouse for £800 per week.
Anvil Productions Limited had a small staff of ten, plus associate directors Richard Wilson and Max Stafford-Clark. It was a 'sister' touring company to Richard Cottrell's Cambridge Theatre Company (established 1969) and Toby Robertson's larger Prospect Theatre Company (established 1963), producing classical and modern theatre for the middle-scale and No.1 touring circuits. The Company opened with McDougall's new translation of Gogol's The Government Inspector. During the next two years, output was prolific, including the world-premieres of F Scott Fitzgerald's only play, The Vegetable, Dennis Potter's Only Make Believe, Shakespeare's As You Like It, Cole Porter's Kiss Me Kate, Tony Connor's Crankenheim's Mixed Up Monster, Georges Feydeau's Fitting for Ladies, Chekhov's Uncle Vanya, Kurt Weill's Happy End (which transferred to London's West End), Arthur Miller's Death of a Salesman, Frank Marcus' Beauty and the Beast - and small-scale tours of Pinter's The Caretaker and Athol Fugard's Statements After an Arrest Under the Immorality Act which I booked at the Watermill Theatre as extensions to their summer seasons. Actors were often cast in several productions: Richard Wilson, Anton Rodgers, Edward Jewsbury, Bob Hoskins, Richard Durden, Andre van Gyseghem, Linda Polan, Richard O'Sullivan, Frances de la Tour, Zoe Wanamaker, Tenniel Evans, Jenny Quayle and Paul Alexander. Gordon McDougall ran the Company until 1984.
For many touring theatre companies, what's in a name and location? Relations with the home city or town are often insubstantial, even when a 'host' theatre has been the founder. Like Cambridge Theatre Company, in the 1990s Anvil eventually moved offices to the capital, where it is less expensive to rehearse the mostly London-based actors and where many artistic directors want to be. Oxford Playhouse Company, upon the appointment of Rupert Goold as artistic director in 2006, changed its name to Headlong Theatre and prospers today. Similarly, when the peripatetic Century Theatre (founded 1948) left its Blue Box Theatre in Keswick for a new base at the Crewe Lyceum Theatre, it changed its name to English Touring Theatre but soon moved to London, in 1993. Of these companies, Cambridge (which changed its name to Method and Madness) is no more, but in most companies the incumbent artistic director tends to wipe out their production history.
Performing arts touring: a select bibliography
John Vasey, Concert Tour Production Management, London and New York, Focal Press. 1997.
Andy Reynolds, The Tour Book: How To Get YOUR Music on the Road: How to Get Your Show on the Road, New York, Cengage, 2007.
Philip C Lewis, Trouping: How the Show Came to Town, New York, Harper & Row, 1973.
Brian Rix, Tour de Farce: a Tale of Touring Theatres and Strolling Players, (from Thespis to Branagh), London, Hodder & Stoughton, 1992.
Richard D Barnet and Jake Berry Ray Wardell, This Business of Concert Promotion and Touring, New York, Watson-Guptill, 2007.
Martin Atkins, Tour - Smart: and Break the Band, New York, Soluble, 2007.
Wiebke Morgan, (ed.), Performing Arts Yearbook for Europe, London, Impromptu, 2009.
See also Don Chapman, Oxford Playhouse: high and low drama in a university city, Hatfield, University of Hertfordshire Press (with Society for Theatre Research), 2008. See also Oxford Playhouse 1938-2008, anniversary pages here.