"Murray is the best kind of literary biographer" – The Financial Times.
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Winner of the 2015 Basil Bunting Award for poetry

Wednesday, 7 November 2007

The People Show: Still Crazy (Naturally)

Excitement mounted to fever pitch last night in Bethnal Green...Well, anyway it was the first night of the London run of the latest People Show, No 118: "The Birthday Tour". The People Show, founded in 1966 by sixties-person Jeff Nuttall, is celebrating its fortieth birthday this year and I can report with relief that they are just as crazy as ever. The Stage once said that in one of their shows there was "anarchy lurking around every corner". I would put it differently and say that anarchy is constantly in your face. When one of the characters leaves the stage through the circular door of a washing machine you know that the madness is in a safe pair of hands.

In their day the People Show, whose roots are in the 1960s idea of a "happening" and in performance art, but who are literally indescribable, have played all the smart venues like the ICA and the Riverside Studios but these days they ignite the fireworks in their East London base at the People Show Studios. This is a former church hall where those nice boys the Kray Twins first learned to box and last night a film crew was shooting an episode of Eastenders or something similar just down the road, adding to the excitement. People Show original stars George Kahn, with his trademark sax, and the faux-naif Mark Long were in the show alongside some excellent new performers and...no, I'm not even going to try to describe what happened. Let's just say we didn't remain in our seats all night, following the show around the Studios, and boarding a zany tour-coach at one point, before being returned to the main auditorium for the final act of discreet lunacy. There have been highs and lows over the past 40 years and Mrs Bibliophilic Blogger and I were present at one of the latter a few years ago at the Welsh town of Builth Wells where the audience consisted of the two of us plus four bemused locals. When Mark Long pushed his quizzical face through a gap in the curtains to start the show his heart must have dropped. So don't let this happen again folks. Get down to Bethnal Green sharpish. There's nothing quite like it in London theatre at the moment and it's on until 17th November.

I learn that People Show 119 is going to take place in the famous Sefton Park Palm House in Liverpool as part of the European Capital of Culture celebrations. Does Liverpool know what it has let itself in for?


scubadiver said...

Saw the People Show's '118' tonight, and boy you aren't kidding about not being able to describe it exactly. What a night! Was great to meet Mark, who is really down to earth and friendly. The entire evening had an air of a family reunion, our more creative kin showcasing their craft. Was a joy to see and interact with! Was wondering if you know of any good research published on People Show? Have been looking around, but can't find too much devoted to them entirely, only random chapters in Performance Art texts or Political Theatre books. Peace and Cheers,

Nicholas Murray said...

Nadia, I don't know anything much really but perhaps an email to the People Show themselves might be an idea. They would know if anything interesting had been written about them. They must also have a fascinating archive. A Phd for someone??