Pip Simmons obituary | Theatre

Pip Simmons obituary | Theatre

There was a limited period in the British theatre – 1968 to 1973 – when every little thing altered as the American counterculture took root in the performing arts, songs and journalism in Europe. The Pip Simmons Theatre corporation, alongside with the Transportable Theatre of David Hare and Tony Bicât, Nancy Meckler’s Freehold business and the Individuals Show of Jeff Nuttall and Mark Prolonged, had been the most important theatrical movers.

These startup firms ended up the enterprises – guerrilla teams, you may possibly say – that toured in vans and modest lorries to the burgeoning new arts labs and centres all over the region, in the wake of influential US providers this sort of as the Living Theatre and the Open up Theatre that had been touched by the put up-Stanislavsky “poor theatre” theories of the excellent Polish expert Jerzy Grotowski.

Simmons, who has died aged 80, was a person of numerous remarkably unique and energetic theatre administrators unsupported in Britain by the Arts Council or the cultural establishment – others provided Joan Littlewood and Peter Brook. Littlewood simply just retired from the fray in 1975, Brook was funded by the French government in Paris, and Simmons identified a spiritual and creative house in the Netherlands, mainly at the Mickery theatre run by Ritsaert ten Cate in Amsterdam.

His manufacturing of An Die Musik at the ICA theatre in London in 1975 (and touring overseas), revived by the Jewish Point out theatre of Bucharest in 2000, was one particular of the very best avant-garde productions of my lifetime, a gruesome, overpowering masterpiece.

It was about a team of internees in the Dachau Nazi concentration camp compelled to deliver their very own musical amusement significant responses ranged from the incensed to the laudatory. An unpalatable reality was confronted in an unforgettable display of shock techniques and plangent, intestine-wrenching classical music.

At this demonstrate, Harold Hobson, the eccentric but influential postwar critic on the Sunday Instances, claimed that: “Pip Simmons has the most terrifying intellect I have encountered in London theatre. It is to be hoped for the joy of his soul that he does not himself realise all that is proposed by its darkish recesses.”

Pip was born in north London, the son of Jack Simmons, a chemist, and his wife, Sybil. The family – Pip experienced an elder sister, Ursula – moved to Eastbourne, where he attended the grammar college, in advance of returning to London, instruction at the now defunct New College of Speech and Drama in Hampstead.

There, he bonded with the musician Chris Jordan who grew to become his inseparable colleague on all his productions, a consistent in a multi-gifted firm that integrated Sheila Burnett, Poppy Palms, Roderic Leigh and Rod Beddall.

The inspirational catalyst for his explosive, confrontational fashion of theatre was the amazing American Jim Haynes, who ran an open up-doorway coverage at the short-lived Arts Lab in Drury Lane, Covent Backyard. The Simmons style was blasphemous and uncompromising, applying loud rock new music, billowing dry ice, nudity, strobe lighting, masks, cartoon caricatures and no cost-kind dance to assault liberal values of tolerance and humanitarianism.

From 1968, his perform splurged at the Arts Lab – Haynes described it as “high camp opera” – spring-boarding from plays by the German expressionist Georg Kaiser, the French surrealist Jean Tardieu and The Searching of the Snark by Lewis Carroll.

In 1969, Superman was both of those a cartoon and an ironic retread of Nietzsche’s hero in Hence Spake Zarathustra. Superman’s profession as a crime-fighter was undermined in his seduction by rock music and a hugely publicised marketing campaign urging people “to have a fuck on a community highway”. Unsurprisingly, in those people times, the exhibit led to prevalent European touring for the very first time.

A go to to the Edinburgh competition in 1970 also led to Michael Rudman, then running the Traverse theatre, commissioning Do It!, adapted from the activist Jerry Rubin’s reserve documenting the anti-Vietnam war protests at the 1968 Democratic convention in the repressive Mayor Daley’s Chicago.

The creator and movie producer Peter Ansorge supplied a very hot-off-the-press account of this interval in the fringe theatre, Disrupting the Spectacle (1975), in which he cannily observed that Simmons, who did not visit the US until finally 1973, responded to myths encompassing the major metropolitan areas in a similar vein to Kafka, Brecht and Fritz Lang: the city was only a partial geographical fact additional importantly, it represented a summary of American surplus, confusion, barbarism and well-known culture.

Even much more controversial than Do It!, The George Jackson Black and White Minstrel Show (1972) introduced white actors in black deal with angrily recounting the tragic circumstance of George Jackson, a black Panther who had been killed attempting to escape from prison. Critics of the display claimed it pandered to racial stereotypes in leisure even though glorifying the black electrical power motion.

In fact, the tone of the show was also cynical, much too outrageous, far too flat-out, to fit any classes of either contempt or acceptance. Earlier mentioned all, it took the historic staple of US leisure, the minstrel clearly show, shook it violently and turned it inside out.

Apart from Mickery, Pip’s company uncovered enthusiastic audiences at the Oval Dwelling and the Theatre Upstairs in London, the Traverse, the Glasgow Citizens and at global festivals in Belgrade, Hamburg, Nancy, Sweden and Denmark.

There was a lull in action in 1973, but a nine-month residency in Rotterdam, driving shut doors, recharged the firm and they returned with An Die Musik and, in 1976, a pleasant transforming of a Dostoevsky shorter tale, The Aspiration of a Ridiculous Gentleman, in which the aforesaid fellow was saved on the brink of suicide by a sensational vision of paradise.

They celebrated their 10th anniversary in 1978 with a 90-minute rock edition of The Tempest. Their past 50 percent dozen displays incorporated an adaptation of Yevgeny Zamyatin’s wonderful dystopian novel We a gambling on line casino fantasia, Rien ne va plus and, ultimately, a bleak, visionary variation of Kafka’s terrifying In the Penal Colony.

The team disbanded in 1978. In 1993, Pip moved with his wife, Helena Fransson – whom he experienced married in 1977 – and their daughter, Sophie, to Sweden. He ongoing to perform all about Europe, together with quite a few productions at L’école du Théâtre des Teintureries in Lausanne. He loved the out of doors life, boating and fishing, and participating in golfing.

Though it could be a issue for regret that Pip was in no way invited to direct, say, The Bacchae by Euripides at the National Theatre, his joyous, confrontational theatre had its impact on our cultural daily life and politics, even if the revolution hardly ever took keep.

He is survived by Helena, Sophie, a grandson, Oliver, and his sister, Ursula.

Philip (Pip) Simmons, theatre director, born 1 December 1943 died 24 January 2024