The Activists &

The YPTS Youth Theatre Workshop

Royal Court Theatre Touring Production 1976/77


Back in the long, hot summer of 1976 my then partner Gerald Chapman had just become the Director of the new Young People’s Theatre Scheme at the Royal Court Theatre in London’s Sloane Square.

Better known by its snappier moniker ‘The Activists’, there were two main performing groups within it - the main group that went on to create their first production of ‘Tom Paine’ in the Theatre Upstairs, and a second group, the ‘YPTS Youth Theatre Workshop’, which consisted wholly of young, gay teenagers. The mission for this group was to devise and then perform a new play about what it was like to be a young gay person in the 1970’s.

The group worked through a number of improvisations and the musical play that was to become known as ‘Not In Norwich’ was devised and edited by a young South African writer called David Lan. This bold and controversial piece of drama told the intimate stories, through a series of vignettes, of several young gay people coming to terms with their sexuality, and expressed from their own perspective. Much of the script was actually based upon the real lives of the people in the group and based upon interviews and discussions that both Gerald and David had with the cast. 

One of Ian Stewart’s original handwritten song score pages from ‘Not In Norwich’

The play had a musical score that was written by a friend of mine called Ian Stewart, with whom I worked with at the time. I’d persuaded Ian to write the original score - I imagine for no money whatsoever, and he did a fine job. The lyric to the main song was created by one of the other actors called Lionel. It tells of the harrowing experiences of a young hustler on the streets of central London (not something, I hasten to add, that came from my personal background).

I have been unable to locate any ‘official’ surviving records of this production other than the items that I hold in my own personal archive: the original script, the original hand-written musical score, posters for the production and some of the original black and white publicity photographs. Hopefully something will turn up somewhere along the line.

The show was a resounding success. This was not only because of its authenticity and honesty, but also owing to the way in which the London Evening Standard newspaper “publicised” it when they found out what the subject matter of the play actually was. We were most proud to have made the front page headlines, with the ludicrous words: ‘LONDON CHILDREN IN SEX PLAY’. Of course this was typical sensationalist tabloid nonsense - we were not ‘children’ and there was certainly no sex in the play! In those days being gay was still illegal for those under the age of 21, and it was taboo to discuss issues such as this with young people. I remember very clearly that far from being scared out of wanting to do the play, the ridiculous furore was treated with laughter and derision by everyone in the cast. Ultimately it served only to strengthen our resolve to tell our story with an even louder and prouder voice.

Despite the ‘scandal’ that the Standard tried to whip up against the production it continued to successfully tour schools and fringe theatres, as well as playing in the ‘Garage’ theatre space adjacent to the main Royal Court building. Each show would be followed by a discussion with the audience. I recall some wonderful, open and very liberating question and answer sessions both from people our own age and also adults.

Ian Reeves (top and bottom pic’s) and ‘Robert’ (bottom pic only) from the cast of ‘Not In Norwich’ jesting around in the King’s Road in 1976 - sadly I cannot remember Robert’s surname.
Above: Me outside the Royal Court in the long, hot summer of 1976

The play contains some really wonderful monologues that, despite its age, still come across as extremely moving. One of the scenes contains a piece where the young gay person is goaded into electric shock therapy treatments by his outraged parents - a scene that was constructed, as they all were, from real-life experiences of one of the cast. At the time this didn’t seem such an odd reaction to express, but in today’s more liberated social environment it only goes to emphasise the importance of what gay people had to go through in order to gain acceptance and human rights.

I am currently trying to piece together the original cast names using the surviving manuscript, but it’s proving to be an exacting task as it only contains first names. The names I have so far are (in order of appearance in the script, with question marks to denote loss of surname): Ian Reeves, Paul Wilce (whom I tried contacting where he now lives in the US but received no reply from sadly), Myself - Gary James, Catherine ?, Lynn ?, Robert ?, Lionel ?, Mark Sreeves, Haydn ? and Geraldine ?

Despite the fuss over the play in the press, Gerald and David were supported and encouraged to carry on regardless by the theatre’s management, most especially from Ann Jenkins, who I recall as a rather scary figure with the appearance of a sort of middle age Velma from Scooby Doo. The precise role that the Royal Court’s management took in all this is a mystery to me, although I do recall Gerald regaling me with wonderfully graphic stories of the rows he’d had with the powers that be.

Above: Me singing the song ‘The Meat Rack’, with music by Ian Stewart and lyrics by Lionel.

Right: Gerald’s hand written note to somebody called’ Nick’, who must have had something to do with the show, but whose role in all this I cannot recall.

This was an exciting time for all of us - 1976/77 in the Kings Road, SW1 was the spiritual home of punk and a glorious place to experience the fashions and music of the time. I recall fantastic training sessions from people like writer Edward Bond and directors like John Schlesinger and Max Stafford-Clark.

The cast of ‘Not In Norwich’ broke up after the last performance and few of us integrated back into the main group, who largely treated us with disdain as ‘outsiders’. Following this production Gerald Chapman carried forward the concept to the well established professional company called ‘Gay Sweatshop’, who I joined in 1979 for the touring production called ‘Who Knows?’. Like ‘Not In Norwich’ this production also seems to have slipped into obscurity - and therefore I have written an article on this play and its company which can be found by following the link to the ‘Who Knows?’ page.