Many years ago I was Production manager at the Roundhouse Theatre in North London, a theatre that was something of an icon back in those far off days. We staged all manner of shows there, film festivals, weekly pop concerts, avant guard classical music concerts – basically, you name it, we showed it.
Among the many other shows that we had there were two very famous and to a greater or lesser degree, pornographic ones.
Specifically these were Oh Calcutta, which after Hair, was the first show in London to have on-stage nudity and a show by Andy Warhol called Pork – Such subtlety eh?
So. what were they like, these two splendid examples of the theatrical arts?
Oh Calcutta was a very dreary show, more or less entirely at the mental level of a smutty 14 year old schoolboy’s sense of humour – not surprisingly, as it had been written mainly by a number of English theatrical luminaries who were products of the British Public School System – In Britain a Public School means a very exclusive, expensive and in those days, boys only school, which churned out generations of men who somehow never quite grew up.
And Oh Calcutta was a very good example of their juvenile sense of humour.
Basically Oh Calcutta consisted of a load of shortish sketches, all dealing with sex in one way or another – but all in a school boy, sniggering fashion, so a sort of variety show really, and as I mentioned above, was one of the first theatrical shows in London with nudity, and also people apparently having sex as well (however, there was a clause in the contracts of the male actors that should they get an erection on-stage, they would be fired!). There was also a short playlet by Joe Orton which was actually quite funny, but for the rest, it was smutty dross.
There were as far as I was concerned, only two good things about it.
The first of these was a ballet sequence in it performed by two naked dancers, a man and a woman, which was incredibly beautiful to watch, and the second was that everyone and his uncle wanted to see the show, so we who worked at the Roundhouse did a roaring trade in smuggling people into the theatre to see the show – We stuffed people into the lighting booth, all around the auditorium and absolutely anywhere we could think of that would allow them to see the stage… And charged much fine money for this obviously..
There was one somewhat funny, yet sad thing that occurred to me in this respect. I was mooching around outside the theatre looking for anyone who might wish to pay me to get them into the show, when an Indian family (Mother, father and youngish teenage daughter) approached me, and asked if I could get them into the show. So I made the deal and took them into the Roundhouse and parked them on some kitchen chairs on the balcony, and left them to enjoy the show.
In the interval I went up to see how they were getting on, only to discover they were on the point of leaving, in a high fury… The poor dears had assumed it was a musical about Calcutta, and were in no way prepared for the juvenile filth that it actually contained… I gave them back their money of course.
The other “dirty” play was of a very different sort. This was a production from Andy Warhol’s Factory called Pork. I can’t remember if it had any sort of a story line, but it was totally obscene. The cast were a collection of the most sexually depraved individuals I have ever come across…. every form of sexual deviancy was present in that bunch, you name it, there would be at least one there.
To be honest, I can remember absolutely nothing about the actual show itself, but do have a number of memories of the way the cast behaved off stage. One of them had had her breasts enlarged – enormously – and was extremely proud of them, and thus showed them to anyone who looked at her. By constantly baring those enormous boobs, she even managed to embarrass the pretty hard headed and experienced guys who worked at the Roundhouse.
Another, who was a transvestite, discovered that he/she loved London and its apparently remarkably tolerant attitude to transvestites, so spent his entire time in drag, going shopping and so on. Only problem was that he was not in any way female looking, hairy legs, very tall, wide shoulders and a definitely male face…. But he didn’t give a damn, and in fact stayed in London when the others went back to the USA.. He was splendid!
And there was the famous occasion when as part of the publicity for the show, several of the female (or imitation female) members of the cast were taken to the gates of Buckingham Palace, and proceeded to do a strip tease. When the cops came rushing up to stop this disgraceful behaviour, one of the girls started to sexually assault one of the younger cops to his acute embarrassment…. She didn’t quite manage to get his trousers off, but it was a very near thing.
But the most extraordinary occurrence was the cast party, which for some inexplicable reason they decided to hold in Camden Town Hall’s reception room. All the stage crew of the Roundhouse were invited to this party, and we duly turned up to find a scene of totally orgiastic excess happening. It had turned into an orgy that Caligula would have been proud to have staged. There were members of the cast and their friends making love in every possible combination of sexes and numbers all over the building, on the main stairs and so on.. The poor old men who worked there, door men, cloakroom attendants, waiters and so on were totally baffled and at a loss as to what to do about all of this behaviour.. We Roundhouse guys were pretty startled too.
Naked people everywhere.
In the middle of all of this sexual excess, I was taken and introduced to Andy Warhol, who turned out to be a rather small and elf like figure, and who offered me an extremely limp hand to shake, and gazed vaguely at me and in a small voice said “hi” and then simply stood there looking at me… A real case of “the lights being on, but no one at home“. Perhaps he had a reasonable excuse for this, as not long before this, he had been shot by one of his hangers-on and was still recovering from that injury.. But I have to say he was a real disappointment in the flesh. He, by the way, took no part in any of the sexual rampaging that was going on all around us.
Nor did we.
Most of the photos of Pork I can’t put here, as they are obscene, so you will have to make do with the cast and Warhol himself, sorry about that.
So, those were our two dirty shows at the Roundhouse, both in their differing ways memorable for me, but sadly neither will be remembered as any sort of theatrical highpoint.
Share with us:
if you saw either of these extravaganzas, do share your memories with us here…. it was a splendid time to be involved in the theatre in London, that is certain.