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People Show
Brady Arts Centre
192 - 196 Hanbury Street
E1 5HU
0207 729 1841
Nearest Tube/Train Station:
Bethnal Green
People Show History

London 1966: In a bookshop on Charing Cross Road the poet manager Bob Cobbing began screening American Underground films and holding poetry readings for the public in the damp, dark basement. The increasing popularity of these events lead Cobbing to consider hosting performances as well and fortunately for this he already had someone in mind, a friend who lived in The Abbey Arts Centre in north London.

This friend is Jeff Nuttall. When he died in 2004 Jeff was described as a poet, artist, teacher, actor and polymath. Jeff wrote a piece called People Show and then looked around for some people to show it. Either due to extreme laziness or good critical judgement on his part he only looks in the building where he lives. The Abbey Arts Centre was a complex of live-in artists studios which in reality in 1966 meant, according to Jeff, only one or two actual artists and sculptors and a following of models and mistresses, dope-dealers and eccentrics, poets and posers amongst whom he found Mark Long, Sid Palmer, Laura Gilbert and John Darling. Together with Nuttall they perform what they think is a one off performance of People Show in the dark basement of Better Books in October 1966.

People Show No. 1, 1966
From behind holes cut in cardboard various body parts appear. A pair of feet. A breast. A stomach. Elsewhere a man with a mask stands impassive on a pedestal. Slowly these human sculptures come to life and turn on the audience, the occasional word at first but soon a full scale river of abuse which in turn becomes a rage against humanity. As the verbal screech grows the sound of a saxophone screaming out a series of notes over and over, and then whips made of washing lines filled with underwear are pulled out of nowhere and the audience is beaten with them before being showered in red raw meat.

It was what was known in the sixties as a 'Happening.'
The audience liked it. So they did it again the next evening.
The audience loved it. So they didnít do it again.
Instead two weeks later they do a totally new one.
This was the real beginning.

Adopting the name The People Show for themselves they became Britainís first experimental theatre group. They stayed together and every two weeks performed a new piece in the basement of the bookshop. In 1967 they moved to Jim Haynes Arts Lab on Drury Lane via a spell at the notorious UFO (Underground Freak Out Club) club in Tottenham Court Road alongside Dave Curtis, Pink Floyd and Soft Machine.

The work was initially tightly scripted with room for improvisation, shot through with bizarre visual imagery, and with prominent use of sound tapes. The space was of paramount importance to the creation of the show, which was directly informed by the space.

After the first year, abandoning scripts, the group began to improvise image-based, visually structured shows, establishing a riskier relationship between performers and audience.

Numbering 118 shows, the People Show has performed all over the UK in streets, fields, night clubs, telephone boxes, toilets, parks, trains and even in theatres. International tours include La Mama, New York; The Mickery, Amsterdam; Paris Theatre Mecanique; Sarajevo Festival; Berlinís Akademie der Kunst and Hamburgís Deutsche Schauspiel Haus.

The company continues to be made up of artists from a broad range of disciplines, painters, choreographers, video artists, actors, writers, designers and musicians. The company is run as a collective from their studios in Bethnal Green, East London and is the longest running 'experimental' theatre company in the UK.


People Show
Nearest Tube/Train Station:
Bethnal Green
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