THE RELUCTANT ESCAPOLOGIST: Mike Bradwell
Nick Hern Books: 9 781854 595386
Review: Rod Dungate, 29 07 10
Detailed, witty, a first-hand experience account of long involvement in alternative theatre
The Reluctant Escapologist is Mike Bradwell’s account of some forty odd years (some of them very odd) spent working in theatre. It’s fascinating and detailed. The book feels to me to be in two natural parts; the first is Bradwell’s training, early years and the time with Hull Truck, the second is his time running the Bush Theatre. While both halves shed much light on both his work and the times, the second half lacks the excitement of the first.
But this, in itself, may reflect the times just as much, perhaps, as it does Bradwell’s shift in occupation.
What is striking in Bradwell’s account of his early work is the vitality, wildness, experimentation and sheer exuberance of his own work and of many of those around him. Bradwell writes from first hand experience and with great colour about the period – the great works coming from Theatre Workshop, Living Theatre, Natural Theatre, Shared Experience, Ken Campbell and many, many more.
How about this for encapsulating the times? This is a route-map for a new Living Theatre show – ‘the voyage from the many to the one and from the one to the many.’ This may raise a wry smile now, but let us not forget these people actually did this, pushing ever harder at boundaries. Bradwell often was part of this work, too. His own work appears to be a combination of irresponsibility, reacting against the Establishment, and marvellously wild invention – this is as much true of his adult work (Cabaret in Pubs) and his regular work for children.
I suppose we do have experimentation now, but the guts that Bradwell so wittily records is gone; nowadays students clamour for a 2/ i degree in it.
With his move to The Bush comes a change of pace. Bradwell lists the many important writers he worked with, outlining his processes and philosophies. The gutsy excitement is missing in this section, and it’s more of a chronological list.
However, there is much worth reading. In particular, Bradwell outlines his rightful (never righteous) frustration with Arts Funding Bodies – in their various restructured forms. Clearly coming through in Bradwell’s writing here is a message that can’t be too often repeated – that the musings and policies of modern Arts bureaucrats and politicians is stifling artistic and creative impulses. Funding criteria seem to have little to do with quality of art, and reasons given for not funding are frequently incomprehensible and irrelevant to arts organisations. Sadly, reading the book now, I could only keep thinking: ‘You ain’t seen nothing yet.’
Here’s a link to the book on Amazon: