A musical in the Brecht-style about a factory in the East End. An East End factory owner closes his works and has it burned down in order to cash in on the development boom. At this point his workers tried to occupy the factory.
Billy Colvill wrote and performed in many plays at Half Moon Theatre on Alie Street. He talks about The 3p Off Opera and the different types of ‘crimes’ within his version of Brecht’s piece. Interviewed by Toni Tsaera.
I was a student at the Sadler’s Wells Design course, which was running out of Camperdown House, next door to the Half Moon [Alie Street]. Camperdown House was the rehearsal hall for the English National Opera, and the Sadler’s Wells course (later Motley Design course) was running out of the basement. I was the only Canadian and I think because I was Canadian, someone, somehow, got me in touch with Guy Sprung, who was running the Half Moon at that time.
I was really young and had been in London for not quite a year. I had come from Toronto the previous fall with Toronto’s Factory Theatre. Factory was presenting plays I had designed costumes for at the Bush Theatre. After Factory went home, I stayed behind and enrolled at the Sadler’s Wells.
In Toronto I had designed costumes for theatres not unlike the Half Moon in scale and scope, so when I met Guy I suppose I brought my “poor theatre” experience on new plays with me.
I have no memory of what my resources might have been, or even much memory of the cast. I do remember that Guy was living with some people in a squat building next to the theatre. There was a sewing machine in that house and I used it to make costumes. I suspect I found things (I was a good scrounger) from Brick Lane. I have clear memories of literally crawling onto piles of clothing lying in crumbling shells of buildings, and digging out things I thought might be useful for the show. Did I do costume drawings? Most likely. Do I know where they are? Not a clue.
I have very little memory of the actual rehearsals but I do have a vague memory of the production. I think it was – not in the round – but there were actors around different parts of the performance space. I have a memory of learning about Joan Littlewood and in fact, going out to meet her? Other people in her company? I think there was some connection because certainly, in terms of the goal of the production, there was a connection to the spirit of her work. And going even further out into London’s East End seemed very exotic to me. Maybe we borrowed some uniforms? I think I borrowed some uniforms from someone….