Lorry Theatre - 18th August To 4th September 1969

Submitted by root on Tue, 06/06/2017 - 16:51

Lorry Theatre was the first out door event staged by The Blackie,  below is part of the Press Release sent out prior to the event.

"The proposal is for a Lorry Theatre Expedition. - jointly promoted by the Merseyside Arts Association and Great Georges - to tour 8/l2 open-air sites in Merseyside during the last two weeks in August.

The performances themselves would not be given from the lorry; the lorry itself is seen simply as a means of conveying the performers and staging to the sites. The performances would be 'part sculpture - part drama', with the performers; creating (from scaffolding, balloons etc.) a piece of urban sculpture in which and on which they then play games and perform (music, dancing, puppets; etc.).

The sites chosen would be residential or city areas, (the central areas of inward-facing blocks of flats, large open areas etc.), rather than park situations. The creating of the sculpture would itself be part of the performance."

In the event Lorry Theatre  took place on 10 sites across Merseyside  which were:-

The Sites

Saturday August 23rd - Liverpool  City - Site bounded by Park Row,   Harlow & Greaves Street

 Monday August 25th -  Huyton -  Site bounded by Westmorland Road & Derby Road

Tuesday August 26th -  Liverpool  City - Courtyard, Bullring Flats,  Bronte Street

              (This performance was cancelled due to bad weather)

Wednesday August 27th -  Crosby - Site between Blakefield Road and Hobs Hey.

Thursday August 28th - Birkenhead - Site on the grass frontage to   Oak & and Eldon Gardens, Beckwith Street.

Friday August 29th -Speke -  Speke Community Centre. Junction Stapleton Avenue & North Rd 

Saturday August 30th  - Liverpool City -  St. Georges Plateau.   

Monday September 1st - Kirkby - Site bounded by Broad Lane and   Thursby Walk, adjacent to Southdene Shopping Centre.       

Tuesday September 2nd -  Liverpool  City - Courtyard, Bullring Flats, Bronte City Street

Wednesday September 3rd - Bootle  - Church View at rear of Irlam  House.

Thursday September 4th  - Liverpool City - Site bounded by Percy Street, Catherine Street& Huskisson St.

The paper work for Lorry Theatre is outstandingly complete, so in archiving the event, it is possible to use, in the main, the texts created at the time, below is the preliminary script followed by a Report by Bill Harpe, who directed Lorry theatre.  Photos are inserted, where appropriate, to show something of what happened.

Prelimary Script

 1.   Arrival at site (balloons and notices - music starts).

Sign announcing the arrival of Lorry theatreLorry Theatre arriving and unloading

Above photos of the sign annoucing the arrival of Lorry theatre and the lorry arriving and being unloaded

2.   Construction of basic scaffolding (30' x 15' x 10').

Building the basic structureThe structure taking place in the Bull Ring


Above starting to build the structure and right  the structure taking shape ( the latter is in the centre of the Bull Ring Liverpool).



3.   Construction of first image .... a whale. Passage of members of the audience through the whale for whale experience.

The front of the whaleThe whale in situ

Above the whale in situ but with its mouth closed

 4. Construction of second image ... a ship. playing of 'ship' games (diving, rigging climbing, pirates)

Fish floating above the scaffolding

 Above Tom Burke and others doing the Fish Dance

5.  Construction of third image ...... a dragon (visual only -fire and smoke).

The Dragon

 Coffee break for cast during this image.

  6.   Construction of fourth image .... a large, open scaffolding structure. Playing of games on structure (obstacle race, large puppets   fiesta music etc.).

7.   Construction of fifth image .... a space-craft (visual only tall inflatable - lift off of  command module),

The space ship

Left the space ship - an inflateable perched on top of the scaffolding






 8.  Construction of sixth image .... a landscape plus flowers (flowers made by cast and audience).   Involvement of audience in bedecking the image with flowers.

Sadly we have no photographs of this

Coffee break.

10   Equipment check - planned packing.

11.  Departure.

4th August. 1969.

As can be seen from The Directors Report below this script was not fully achieved - most of the participatory games were regarded by the authorities as unsafe and therefore did not happen. The games were replaced by performance; both by the cast and by the audience. 

As a result of this decision rehearsals focused on performances by the cast  and  on how to involve and encourage the audience to take part.

The texts and sources used for the Performances:-

Poems By     William Blake :  Samuel Taylor Coleridge :Walter De La Mare  :   Malcolm Lowry  :  John Masefield  :  Adrian Henri  :  Roger McGough  :  Adrian Mitchell  :  Brian Patten.

Excerpts From  Encyclopedia Brittanica  :  The Guiness Book Of Records  :  The Penguin Book Of Animal Verse  :  Artic Whaling  :  Whales And Whaling  :  Moby Dick  :  A History Of Ships And Sailors  :  Adventures of The Sea  :  Farmer Giles Of Ham  :  The Hobbit  :  Fairy Tales Of Great Britain  :  Legends Of Mythical Monsters  :  Legends Of The Saints  :  Tiger Flower (Child's Book)  :  Liverpool Tales Of Mayhem And Murder  :  Famouse Liverpool Eccentrics and  Characters.     

In addition they used Daily Newspapers


"More art for more people" is a dangerous political slogan - apparently unifying such diverse activities as Ballet for All, (a touring group set up to promote the repertory and aesthetics of the Royal Ballet) and the theatre of Joan Littlewood (which has produced such shows as 'Oh What A Lovely War' and the plans for a Fun Palace.) The slogan makes no distinction between two quite different convictions: that art in its traditional forms should be preserved and more of the community should be 'educated' to appreciate these forms - and the conviction that if the arts are to appeal once again to a wider audience then the arts them­selves must begin to change (i.e. arts and artists themselves are as much in need of 'education' or change.) Both convictions are capable of providing a firm basis for artistic activity, each approach deserving (once the principle of public patronage for the arts is accepted) a substantial measure of public support.

To date, almost all public money has gone to promote the former approach (which in general terms has meant the very expensive promotions of 'Opera House and Repertory Theatre Culture'); and virtually no public money at all has gone on the latter. Lorry Theatre Expedition, jointly promoted through grants from the Merseyside Arts Association and Great Georges Project - but only made possible because of substantial support from business and industry and from a large (and generally unpaid) cast - falls into the latter category.

Like much art attempting to develop relevant contemporary forms,  Lorry Theatre Expedition was primitive. A 50 foot long and 20 foot high scaffolding whale, set up in an open space in a city by a bus stop, remains - in spite of any sophistication of thought behind the design and of 20th century equipment (slot-in scaffolding, electronics, public address system etc.) - a basically primitive statement. At its best the production was something of a primitive miracle. Viewed on the large scale - the building and transformation of huge images in an urban environment (a whale, a ship, a dragon, a space-craft) - the production always had magic and surprise; though the full magical possibilities of the concept could only be realised with more sophisticated structural materials. Viewed for its 'stage performances' on the small platform set in one side of the images, the production sometimes had magic (community singing, one child captivating a large audience, a news story that held everyone's attention) and sometimes hadn't (the performers looking in need of more direction, of imaginative costumes and characters, of richer material to work from.) I was generally satisfied and convinced by the validity and viability of the project; sometimes delighted by the life which was generated; and sometimes ashamed that we hadn't made real the full potential of the project before taking it out into the area.

In Lorry Theatre we attempted to set up a situation in which the community and the artist could (and for a performance to succeed had to) meet. This was literally 'taking art to the community' and the 'art' needed to be able (like a piece of substantial Renaissance sculpture) to stand up for itself in the real world if it was not to suffer the sort of fate which the Arts Council's Open Air Sculpture Exhibition suffered at the Goree Piazza, Liverpool, (where the sculpture had to be taken away for hospitalisation and repair after ten days exposure to the realities of city life.)

It was in the nature of Lorry Theatre project that each performance took as much of its character from the site and from the people who passed by or stood to watch as it did from the artists/builders/performers who 'created' the show.

The performances at Huyton and Speke were both sunny and successful with performers, young and old, coming up on stage to perform, and an interested good-humoured crowd standing for much of the day (though of the two Speke was potentially the 'rougher' situation). The performance at Crosby, in poor weather, was distinguished by the social contact between cast and audiences local housewives brought us pots of tea, coffee, even toast and boiled eggs; conversations started, we were invited into homes for soup, for tea, to sit and talk; perhaps one of the nicest parts of the Crosby performance was when a group of singers and children, sheltering from the wind by the side of a block of flats, sang folk-songs into the late evening while the scaffolding was being taken down. At Kirkby (on August Bank Holiday) the performance was created by the audience who took over the stage and made their own entertain­ment, singing and dancing on stage and sometimes around the structure as well; for a good part of the afternoon there was no need for us to do much more than play records during a break while one group of performers was taking over from another and to build the images around the performance. The Liverpool, Bull Ring, performance was rough - the audience consisted mainly of kids and they did not find what we had to offer satisfactory.

This was the one case in which Lorry Theatre failed to come to terms with the environment - the most you can say was that we got in and got out unscathed. Birkenhead was friendly if rough - with young people bringing along their records for us to play, and the atmosphere (at its best) something like a fairground. Bootle was a very successful performance with folk-singers and poets coming out of the audience to perform; with a standing audience (in good weather) for much of the afternoon; and with children arriving after school to sing songs, play Pied Piper musical games, and to chase or be chased by Spring Heel Jack. The performance on St. Georges Plateau, Liverpool was by far our 'quietest'; a case of us entertaining the audience (with sports news and a very successful dragon image on a Saturday afternoons) there was little or no audience participation. The other two Liverpool performances varied from the excited invasion of the whale by some 300 children (Harlow Street), to an occasion in Catherine Street where the at first puzzled passers-by gradually grew into a fair sized audience, the performance ending with business men with umbrellas and young kids all making flowers together and hanging these flowers from the hessian covered scaffolding structure.

We were very fortunate with the weather - only one cancellation out of a programme of ten performances in eleven days. The duration of the stage performances depended on the location - generally starting around lunch time and ending around closing time (about 6 o'clock) on sites primarily associated with shopping centres ; where the site was primarily associated with blocks of flats we could obviously, in some instances, have gone on through the night if we'd had the energy. 'Drive up' time on site was generally around 10.30 am; 'drive away' time was usually a little after 9 pm. Of the sites visited three (Birkenhead, Kirkby, and the Bull Ring) were perhaps too close to the flats themselve.

The original aim of the show had been

 a)  to entertain an audience, and to get the audience to entertain themselves

 b)  to build large images (the whale, the space-ship etc.), and to get the music, poems, songs etc. to relate to these images

 c)  to play games on and around the images and structure.

 The City Building Surveyor to Liverpool Corporation strongly advised us against (c) ('I recommend therefore that this aspect of your activities be not proceeded with', letter of 15th August 1969) We reluctantly accepted this advice - though this put an unexpected strain on the entertainment part of the show, which then had to run for a period of something like 6 hours continuously each day. (We developed a technique which began to deal with this something close to a living newspaper).

We had hoped (see original script) to be able to let the audience climb rope cargo nets on to the 'ship's to 'dive off' into a foam rubber sea: to run obstacle races through the structures etc. With professional teachers in the cast we had a nucleus of people qualified and prepared to play with children a situation which doesn't exist in the majority of playgrounds and certainly not in the streets, deserted buildings, and rubbish tips where many of the children we visited play regularly.

The difficulties encountered at the Bull Ring came from the fact that the kids wanted and expected to be allowed to play on and round the structure. They swung on the lower bars of the scaffolding, stole newspapers and ran around waving them, appeared flourishing large fibre glass tubes (which they'd taken from somewhere but not from us) all signs, as a chance visitor from the University Education Department remarked, that the kids really wanted to play and be involved with the structure rather than stand and be entertained.

We don't believe that the games we were offering (to adults as well as the young) were any more dangerous than the invitation to play in a playground, join in a game of football or play Christmas games. I feel convinced after the experiences of this summer that games can and should play an important part in projects such as this. In any future project discussions with the appropriate Local Authority officers might begin at an early stage (one of the problems this summer was the relative shortage of time available for such discussions).

Perhaps the most notable aspect of the production (outside the performances themselves) was the co-operation and support we received from business and industry - without this the production would not have been a possibility. A good deal is talked and written about the involvement of art and industry and there is no doubt that Lorry Theatre Expedition was remarkable in this respect. Such a production would certainly have cost thousands had all the equipment and services to be paid for, and a number of the services (such as rehearsal facilities at RAF, Woodvale) represent the sort of help which it would be difficult to buy. I think one reason for the generous help and assistance is that this was not solely 'a fine arts' project, but had an evident relation with social work and education and with a concern for environment and community development as well as with the arts.

To quote from the original press releases 'The show relates - in part - to other summer endeavours such as playgrounds and playgroups which while the schools are closed for six weeks, attempt to begin to do something about those problems which begin from boredom and end in vandalism and shop-lifting.

The other remarkable aspect of Lorry Theatre was the attention it received on TV, on radio and in the press. There were films of the performance on both Granada and BBC, coverage on Radio Merseyside, and press coverage in the "Birkenhead News", "Bootle Times Herald", "Castle Street Circular", "Crosby Herald", "Daily Telegraph", "The Guardian", "Kirkby Reporter", "Liverpool Daily Post", 'Liverpool Echo", "Plays and Players". It is true that unusual contemporary art activities are dangerously prone to press coverage (and frequently in terms of ironic humour if not of ridicule); such press coverage can be a handicap rather than an asset. However, virtually all the press coverage was positive in its praise of the performances and of the idea. At a time when much press coverage of the contemporary fine arts sets out to ridicule, it is something of a compliment that we were treated in the way we were (and every reporter who wrote about Lorry Theatre did so after visiting a performance). In addition Lorry Theatre was treated as news rather than art (making, for example, the front page of the Saturday night "Echo"). And so, just as the perform­ances themselves were seen by people who might never go into a theatre, the news of Lorry Theatre and its aims was presented as news to newspaper readers who might have avoided it had it been printed on the art page.

Because it represented, in some ways, a new departure in theatre, it is difficult to make comparisons between Lorry Theatre Expedition and other theatre productions. Lorry Theatre was created as contemporary theatre for an urban situation - an event which would have significance if you drove past it, saw it from a bus, walked past, or stayed and joined the standing audience. The show had no conventional 'story-line' beginning and end - you didn't have to be there at the 'beginning' in order to gather information which would explain the rest of the action. Under such circum­stances it is difficult for example to calculate the size of the 'audience'; but certainly something of the order of 10,000 people must have 'seen' Lorry Theatre; and of these some 2,000 were 'captured' and stayed to stand for a time. The audience for BBC's Look North saw a 5 minute film made at a performance.

Comparative production costs are also difficult to obtains it would certainly be considerably more expensive to create a Lorry Theatre tour and to meet the actual costs involved than to subsidise the overheads for a 3 or 6 week season by a repertory company. On the other hand 'one off' events (with a cast and personnel assembled for a relatively short season) are generally more expensive than a long term or continuing project. And an event which has to be created from nothing (by commissioning writers, musicians, designers, etc.) is generally more expensive than a production created around an already existing script or scenario by interpretive artists.

The outgoing expenditure on repertory theatre in Liverpool over a year (inclusive of administrative overheads and some capital expenditure) must be at least of the order of £100,000. A touring summer Lorry Theatre playing in the open spaces of Merseyside would (to cover transport, equipment, production team, a nucleus of professional performers, and an imaginative array of props and costumes, ) need a grant of some thousands of pounds. It is only- fair to remember here that repertory theatres have a box office income, whereas a Lorry Theatre project would not - though an imaginative production might well tempt a TV company to pay for filming; and a film made by a film unit associated with the production might bring in a continuing income for some years after the tour. There is also an argument - which I believe to be true - that a production such as Lorry Theatre should never be wholly professional but should, in addition to allowing the audience to perform, give opportunities for work under professional direction to talented non-professionals, students, young people from other countries etc.

I am pleased that a number of members of the Merseyside Arts Association Executive Committee were able to visit a performance, and that the Director of the Merseyside Arts Association visited the Crosby performance. I have not attempted to repeat in this report the outline of Lorry Theatre Expedition given in the press release (this being much the best description we have of what we did and what we were setting out to do). If you don't have a copy of the press release then I will be pleased to send one.

A film (16 mm black and white) has been shot of Lorry Theatre Expedition and we hope to edit into a final 15 - 20 minute film.  The 5 minute BBC Look North film, "Lorry Theatre Expedition" is available for private viewing.


The credits are unusually detailed and contains information which was not in future included in credits but it does illustrate the variety of people  involved from the very inception of the Blackie.

From the Directors Report "Because Lorry Theatre was something of a Renaissance show with most people doing more than one job, a number of names appear more than once in the credits.  In all, a total of just over 50 people worked as crew or performers on Lorry Theatre, without payment"

Crew and performers


Great Georges staff  :-  Bill Harpe, Leslie Roberts,  Tom Burke. 

Slabodan Paich - Designer/College Lecturer (paid).  Bob Putt - Actor,  Manchester Library Theatre (paid). John Watts - Artist/Technical Director (paid). David Bassi - Hospital Technician (unpaid). Stephen Bennett - School leaver (unpaid). Paul Brown - Artist (unpaid). Dave Calder - Poet  (unpaid).  Dave Cope - University student (unpaid). Donny - Belgian, UNA Workcamp (subsistence). Paul Gaskell - School leaver  (expenses). Paulo Giolden - Italian, UNA Workcamp ( subsistence).  Colin Lomas - Postgraduate Student (unpaid). Jim Macritchie - Artist (unpaid). Dave Mount - Shool leaver (subsistence). Dave Rickus - Graduate  (unpaid). Frank Rockcliffe - Student  (unpaid).  Alan Shaw - Office worker (unpaid).  Peter Sonnne - Technical College Student (subsistence).  Giovanni Toffoli - Italian UNA workcamp (subsistence). Rkki Noyce - Merseyside Arts Association (seconded). Edwin George - Poet (unpaid).

Performer (Regular)

Bob Putt - Actor, Manchester Library Theatre - Compere/Reading/Solo and Community Singing (paid).  Barbara Harkin - Great Georges Staff - Reading/Community Singing. Sue Breen - Drama Student - Reading/Singing (unpaid).  Adele Fulder - Drama Student - Reading/Singing (unpaid). Colin Lomas - Guitarist/Singer (unpaid).  Dave Rickus  - Graduate - Reading/Singing/Acting spring -Heel Jack (unpaid).  Children Unlimited

Performers (Occassional)

Tom Burke - Great Georges Staff - Pied Piper Scene/Fish Dance.  Trish Courtie - Great Georges Staff - Community Singing.  Slabodan Paich - Designer/College Lecturer -Fish Dance (paid). Bunty Batterbury - Houswife - Reading (unpaid).  Judy Roberts - ex Art School Student - Singing/Tabourine/Pied Piper Scene/Fish Dance (unpaid). Frank Rockliff -  Student- Singer/Guitarist (unpaid). Howard Steel - Student Librarian- Acting - Spring Heeled Jack (unpaid). Donny - Belgina UNA Workcamp - Guitarist/Singer - Belgian UNA Workcamp (subsistence).

Guest Perfromers

Dave calder  - Reading his own poetry (unpaid).  Ma Baung Thein - Reading his own poetry (unpaid).  Mr Foster - Retired Children's Entertainer Aged 80 - Sang/Told jokes/Tap Danced (unpaid). Edwin George & Group - Edwin invented his own stories for the children and sang with his modern  Folk group 'Moses Pennyfeather' (unpaid).  Margie King & Patsy May  - ytoung folk singer, Bootle (unpaid). Lee Ling - Singer/Guiitarist (unpaid). Rikki Noyce  - Reading his own poetry (seconded). Bobby Nyahoe - Reading including his own poetry  (unpaid). 

And others (poets, story tellers, singers, musicians) whose name were never recorded.

Props and Design Prior to Tour

Trish Courtie - Great Georges Staff. Slabodan Paich - Designer/College Lecturer (paid). John Watts - Artist/Technical Director (paid).  Fred Bushe - Scuptor/Lecturer (unpaid). Sue Breen - Drama Student (unpaid). Julia Breithaupt - German UNA Workcamp (unpaid). Adele Fuller - Drama Student (unpaid). Mrs. J.P.Harpe -  Housewife (unpaid). Dave Mount - School Leaver (subsistence). Rikki Noyce - Merseyside Arts Association (seconded). Trevor Owen (unpaid). Lorna Peaty - Graphic designer (unpaid). Judy Roberts -  Ex Art School Student (unpaid). Pete Roberts - Visual Aids Artist (unpaid). Janet Taylor - Drama Student (unpaid). Mary Zuckerman - Actress, Chester Gateway (unpaid).  and Local Children from Great Georges.


Jimmy Glover - Lorry Driver (lorry) - (Honarium). J.P.Harpe - Schoolmaster (car) - (unpaid). Dave Rickus - Graduate -(car) - (expenses). Judy Roberts - Ex Art School Student (van) - (expenses).  Peter Williamson - Liverpool Daily Post & Echo (lorry) - (unpaid).


Trish Courtie - Great Georges staff. Sue Bates - Student (unpaid). Jean Longworth - Student (unpaid). Chris Malvern -Student (unpaid). Judy Roberts - ex Arts School Student (unpaid). Janet Taylor - Drama Student (unpaid).


Robert Clark - Student (unpaid). Colin Koke -Display Artist (unpaid). Frank Rockliffe - Student (unpaid).

Film And Photography

Robert Clark - Student (unpaid). J.P.Harpe - Schoolmaster (unpaid). 

Thanks To

Loan of Equipment and Facilites.

Britsh Leyland Motors  (loan of lorry for 2 weeks); Big ben Scaffolding, Norwest Construction Ltd, Tysons Contractors Ltd, (loan of scaffolding, planing plus advice as to design and construction);  Tysons Contractors Ltd, (Loand of mobile generator); G.Davies & Sons (loan 26' trailer and transport for rehearsals);  Berwick Toy Company (releasing employee for 2 weeks to act as technical director); William Tomkinson Ltd (loan of 4KW generator);  R.A.F Woodvale (reheasal facilites - covered); North west Farm Formby (reheasal facilites - open air); Liverpool City Council, Parks Department & City Engineers (loan of sound equipment, garaging for lorry and loan of road signs); A.E.Smith Coggins Ltd (loan of carggo net ); Guild of Undergraduates Liverpool University (loan of public address system); L&G Fire Appliance Co (loand of fire fighting equipment); I.C.I (gift of dye); Judy Roberts (donation of film stock).


Liverpool City Council Planning Officer, Building Surveyor, Estates Surveyor; Town Clerk - County Borough of Birkenhead; Town Clerk - County Borough of Bootle; Town Clerk - Borough of Crosby; Clerk of the Council - Huyton with Roby Urban District Council and the Clerk of the Council - Kirkby Urban District Ccouncil who in consultation with the elected representatives made the sites available for performance.

The Chief Constables of Liverpool City Police, Bootle Borough Police, Lancashire Constabularly and Cheshire County Constabulary for police  cooperation and assitance during performances