Oliver Senton Interview
The Warp in Outline and in Performance (Part One)
This is an interview between Oliver Senton, who played Phil Masters, the longest part ever written for one actor, in The Warp, when it was directed by Daisy Campbell at the Albany Centre in Depford, and Jeff Merrifield, currently researching The Science Fiction Theatre of Liverpool for the University of Liverpool.
Interview conducted at the Hermitage in Brentwood on 24 March 1999.
Oliver: So, the play starts in 15th century Bavaria with a character called Paul, a leather tanner, who is refusing to be sent off to war by his fugal Lord, for philosophical reasons, really. He refuses to fight battles for any other man. His wife seems to be resisting him, for reasons that are not made clear. The rabble burst in on them, led by a character called The Baron, who cuts out Paul’s tongue and fastens him to a water wheel. As The Baron attempts to woo Paul’s wife, Paul is turned around on the water wheel. He is put under the water three times and on the third time, when he is brought out, he has died. The scene ends with Paul’s wife somewhat reluctantly accepting the hand of The Baron in marriage. This cuts directly to a scene in a shed in Devon in 1956.
Jeff: Did you ever find out if Paul was in fact a past life of Phil’s?
Oliver: No, I didn’t ask Neil that, but the Scientology scenes certainly tend to suggest that, during the audits he did go back to that life. At this stage of his life, he is only eighteen and quite naive, he thinks it is just a dream, a dream in which he died. He wakes up in the middle of this dream and his girlfriend has come into the garden shed, where he has been dreaming. He is quite shaken up. It transpires that he is just about to be going off to Africa, to Rhodesia, to take up a civil service job with the treasury. He is not quite sure how long he is going away for, but for his girlfriend it seems like an eternity, with him on the other side of the world. She gets very upset and starts crying. It progresses from that into them having sex, very loudly and very passionately. I sometimes think that this was Phil losing his virginity, but I am not sure about this. Anyway, they have very loud a raucous sex, they turn the radio up, modern jazz (it is stage directed as Gerry Mulligan’s ‘Walking Shoes’) that is turned up to cover their sex noises. They are interrupted in the end by his mother, whom he tells to fuck off in no uncertain terms.
Jeff: A very weird character, Neil’s mother, isn’t she? I must stop calling her Neil’s mother, I mean Phil’s mother. But a strange character.
Oliver: She is very weird, very unpleasant really. It takes Phil a long time, ‘til the end of the cycle of plays, to find forgiveness for her. I think it is at the beginning of the last play where he says he has found forgiveness, for he realises that she was a product of the War and was a very frightened country girl and all this sort of thing. But when we first encounter her, and then we don’t see her again for a long time, she is a very oppressive figure.
Jeff: And his father in a wheelchair.
Oliver: That might have been something that was added – Ken’s direction. His father is just a very distant figure who basically never tries to stop the mother dumping all the shit she is dumping.
Jeff: It’s almost as if the only reason he appears in the play is to die.
Oliver: Yes. Absolutely. We see him here and we see him again when he just supports whatever she says…
Jeff: And then he dies.
Oliver: He’s a very distant figure. But it is worth considering, that very fact of the complete absence of his father in the play. It affects the central character a lot. So, in the next scene we have gone straight to Rhodesia, a year later. Of course, all these early scenes are just like a preparatory sequence, I feel. The first four or five scenes. We meet a character called Rhodesian Tom, which is Phil’s first contact with slightly alternative ideas. He has led quite a sheltered existence up to this point. Rhodesian Tom begins to introduce him to Joyce and T. S. Eliot, things like this, which is certainly the most bizarre literature that he has come across. We have a conversation between Phil and Rhodesian Tom about his girlfriend, the one we had encountered in the previous scene, is coming out to Rhodesia to be with him and he is very nervous about it, though looking forward to it. Tom introduces ideas about time, patterns of time, things that Phil at this stage does not really listen to. We also learn more about Phil’s obsession with modern jazz and that, also, he is skilled at hypnosis, as he has managed to make a local jazz player play like Clifford Brown. He has made him believe that he can under hypnosis, giving him post-hypnotic suggestions and stuff.
Jeff: I liked it when that was played with Tom walking backwards.
Oliver: Almost walking off, yes. That’s the patterns, you see. We did a lot of that in March/May, when Ken was more around, doing more bizarre things with shapes. He experimented a lot. Like we did the Snarkle scene not being able to stand or sit still, things like that, with shapes. It was great. Next we encounter Eva, the girlfriend, again, on the train station in Salisbury, Rhodesia. She has changed. She has become very sophisticated, posh and bourgeois, dressing smartly and dolly-birdy. She now hasn’t really got a lot of time for Phil. It is one of the first sequences, like in the first of the Scientology thing, where he feels quite rejected. She treats him pretty awfully, really. She abuses him. She has met this producer on the ship, wants to get into being a film star, and sports cars, and that sort of thing. Phil’s first thing is to be a sort of doormat for her, but he kind of gets over that. He slaps her round the face and walks off on her. I suppose that’s him cutting himself off from home, in a way. That’s what it feels like. After this, we don’t see him back with his parents until the beginning of play five. He becomes completely like a solitary figure.
Jeff: There is also the set-up in this scene, with the stuff tumbling out of the suitcase, the set-up for the skittles story.
Oliver: Yes that’s right. Linking what happens on this platform with what happened in an incident when he was five. He had spilled his set of skittles out of his little suitcase as a child, on a railway station platform, which resulted in his mother shouting at him, abusing him, telling him she will have him sent away. All this comes out in one of the Scientology auditing sequences.
Jeff: So here, he obviously feels like a naughty boy again, in front of Eva.
Oliver: Yeah, exactly. He is very shaken up by that. But she thinks he is just behaving weirdly. He doesn’t understand what is going on. Now all this, what we have seen so far, for me is just the prologue. We start proper with the first Scientology scene, with John Michel.
Jeff: How interesting…
Oliver: It’s just how it seems to me, because those are apart from it.
Jeff: It’s like back-story, fast and furious.
Oliver: Absolutely. So now we are back in London, another year later.
It is 1958 and John Thrushman (who is John Michel) has an early version
of the dianetics auditing machine, the E-meter, Ron L Hubbard’s E-meter,
which lots of people just had in their homes at that time. They start off…
at first, they are doing TR Zeros, the two of them. There is a long pause
and they are just looking into each other’s eyes. It is obviously very
early in Phil’s Scientology treatment, not the first, as he seems to know
what the replies are, but very early. First off, he gives you the back-story
of what has happened in the last year. A couple of main, weird things to
do with him are, he’s started working at this jazz club, the nightclub
in Rhodesia, and villains came in and smashed the whole place up. As he
was walking home from there he heard voices in his head telling him he
was a poet. He had never had any feelings of being artistic or anything
before, but when he heard these voices he believed they were true. He was
not scared of them, he was a bit shaken up by them, but he believed them
to be honest. Then he tells us, after that, he had met this incredibly
beautiful woman and he taught her about tantric sex, that he fell completely
in love with her, although one feels that he was still a young man and
that he was just completely besotted with her. He actually says he worships
her. Living with her, he goes to a European art exhibition and falls under
the spell of a Modigliani painting. He then believes that he is a painter
as well as a poet, he has this sudden flash of inspiration. She tells him
that he has to go back to England, and he does, but she does not follow
him back. This is why he is having the session, because he feels so heartbroken,
that she hasn’t come to join him. They then go deeper into the Scientology
sequence and their them this time is about being lost. Phil reveals feelings
of being lost. Because each of the Scientology processes has a key feeling,
and this one has to do with the feeling of loss. After the preparatory
exercises, they go back through these feelings of loss. The first is the
platform sequence with Eva, then about a death dream, just before he left
for Rhodesia. Not the Bavarian dream, but one about being shot down by
enemies he does not go into detail about. Then about an experience when
he was three, when he comes back from his grandmother’s house with his
mother and he finds that his cat has disappeared, he is sure that his mother
has killed it. His cat was his only friend ant it has been taken away from
him. We have a sequence where is father is going away to war and then remembrances
of lying in his pram when he was nine months old and understanding language
for the first time in his life. He is aware of people round his pram, bending
down, and sounds coming down to him. He understands what they are saying.
Then he starts going back into previous life. The 19th century,
it’s all a bit mixed up to begin with, but he goes back to 1870 and he’s
lost someone called Mary and he’s talking about his mother as well. The
confusion is sorted out and we then go back through the memories one by
one. It is 1870 and this Mary has died. In the same year earlier he had
lost his mother as well. And we are also gathering that he is seeing black,
he has lost his sight, and this is bound up with the feelings of loss.
As we go back, we go back to when he was a child in this previous life
and he was blinded. He was playing with a friend, who was playing with
a bottle hanging from a tree and it smashed in his eyes. He did not go
blind straight away, but over a period of about a year or more, as a child,
he gradually became blind. We then go a year on from the point of blindness.
He can still kind of see things, but they are blurred. So it was obviously
later on that he eventually became blind. Then he moves back to an even
earlier life as an America Indian in the mid-18th century, 1743.
I’m not sure which conflict this is, but it is some sort of massacre of
Indians, not sure which tribe, by white settlers, at the same time opening
up into all sorts of other areas. It is interesting how much… I mean, there
must have been something latent in Neil to be open to all this stuff, because
he doesn’t dismiss things very readily, he’s obviously quite open. A child
being of some kind. Because at the same time, there is an after-death experience,
meeting his wife and their souls flying up into the ether, or the sky,
and seeing a blaze of colour, and this great feeling of joyousness with
the tribe. A very transcendental experience. And that is the end of that
session, because he has reached his equilibrium and his flow. So that is
where John Thrushman cuts him off.
Jeff: What’s it like to do that stuff, because it is astounding to watch.. I mean, these Scientology sections are strongly some of the most memorable things in the play? The language of them stays with you, partly because, I suppose, they are such terrific acting moments, I would think.
Oliver: I don’t know… They are the hardest to learn…
Jeff: Because they are very fragmented?
Oliver: Because you get the same cue again and again. They are very
draining because you have to make them your memories. When I am going over
it this time I am understanding more and more why Russell went the way
that he did, doing it so intensively. When you are learning such a vast
amount of material it becomes your own. It does become… I remember Ken
telling me about a moment when they were doing The Warp back in ’79, ’80,
and Russell was talking about something as if it was his own memory. It
wasn’t, it was Neil’s memory, but Ken had to say to him, "That wasn’t you,
Russell, that was Neil…"
Oliver: And I’m starting to understand that…
Jeff: It is startling stuff to watch, as an audience. You are perhaps right, the play does start here, because it really grabs you, you are in on it. You want to go with this character, after you have been through this with him.
Oliver: Yeah, absolutely. They are kind of difficult, because in terms of memory they require great concentration, so in terms of acting you just kind of give yourself over to it. You are concentrating on your memory…
Jeff: It has a strange sort of reality about it, like it is your own memory.
Oliver: Hmm. So at the end of the Scientology there is the copper…
Jeff: The homosexual policeman?
Oliver: Who undresses. We may have realised already, but if we haven’t we realise at this point that John is gay and we have a whole new agenda there as to why he gets young men into his flat and does Scientology with them. Then we meet King David for the first time. We find out more and more about King David as things go on. This was not the original order, as far as I can remember, but it is the one I know, the one we do now. King David. At this stage, all we know is that he is a tramp, really. We discover bits about him. We discover that he may have been an army officer, in India; that he underwent some kind of moment of enlightenment on a railway station in Poona.
Jeff: He was one of these great guys who were The Speakers in Hyde Park Corner…
Oliver: King David…?
Oliver: Ahh. I don’t think that is mentioned in the play…
Oliver: Obviously he is a talker. I don’t really know how to describe David’s outlook on life. His mind has certainly been opened up at some time or other and one has to read his speeches to really get it. It is not as though there are ideas running through it really.
Jeff: I would imagine that Lisa will have put King David’s speeches on the website, don’t you think. Let’s have a look…. […] Some great characters have played King David over the years, starting with Bunny.
Oliver: Bunny Reed.
Jeff: You never forget Bunny after you have seen him do that.
Jeff: But also Daisy.
Oliver: Daisy, very good, very good. She is surprisingly good at that. It is a lot of fun. I don’t think I can do justice to that section, the King David. It is like a sea of thought, not in a linear way, nothing so limited as that in what he says. All kinds of things, but they do connect.
Jeff: It is profoundly philosophical stuff that he spouts. You don’t know what the fuck it means, but you feel you are hearing something significant.
Oliver: Well, there are times… The one that really comes home to me,
I think it is in Play Two, when he says, "….listen to it in the basement
of the galaxy, pain, pain – electricity is not very warm is it? There is
the odd lighthouse here or there, but that is about it…" Incredibly bleak,
Jeff: Fabulous writing.
Oliver: Incredible writing. The more I read this stuff… The difficulty with this play is that the problem in getting it right is that there is no precedent for it. There is no other play…. that I know of… perhaps Illuminatus! has some of this… that has the tones, the kind of people, that you have to make so believable. Like that policeman just now, those are the kind of people that those who act The Warp need to see. Like when we read at Depford last year, there was one man there in the hall outside who had got himself psychiatric treatment because he had heard voices. And he was working abroad with his wife and stuff. But it was so matter of fact, it was so real to him. He had stopped hearing them by then, they had gone away, but he had suffered severe schizophrenia for a time. The point about it was that he wasn’t a loon. And people aren’t. They just have a different reality. That is a thing that the actors have to get their heads around, really. And generally they do. Certainly, as long as Ken is around, or Daisy is around, they can pull people up on that. So next we are in Sam Widges. There is this remarkably long stage direction, which I think is the first thing that Neil wrote, the first thing that Ken typed out for Neil…
Jeff: What, the Sam Widges stage direction?
Oliver: Yes, they sat down and it wasn’t written in any linear form.
They just wrote a great scene and a great scene, then they began to get
scenes that linked it all together. I think Ken said that after the first
three days they had about six hours of material ready. But they were best
bits, or what appeared to them to be best bits. And they worked it all
together from there. So a host of characters we meet in Widges. Billy McGuinness,
of course, to be very influential, and Marty. Now Marty is character who
has been condensed from two…
Jeff: He’s concocted from two poets, isn’t he?
Oliver: One was a poet and one was a sort of Dada painter. The one who was known as Marty, who was the one that Mitch originally played, is the one who ends up in the lunatic asylum. Earlier on there was another character, and his name begins with ‘m’ as well. Can’t remember now…. Mike…? Who was more the kind of Dada painter figure…
Jeff: In the original production?
Oliver: Yeah. If you watch the 1979 videos you will see a character who wears the dinner suit, a top hat and curly hair, that is not Mitch, but another character. And they became condensed.
Jeff: One of them is based on Harry Fainlight, the poet.
Oliver: Yes, that is Marty, in the original. But the character here called Marty was originally called something else. So like other characters in the play he is a condensation of two, now. As well as Marty Mission and Billy McGuinness, there is Ernest, the man who does the horoscopes. There is a hint of the homosexual community, with John Thrushman in there as well. It is a host of incredible characters and Phil is blown away by it all. It is full of people he has never met before and yet it is incredible that he just leaps into it, just dives into it, he is not put off or phased by it. There is Sandor, the guy who runs Widges, Hungarian, I think, and Peter Dominic, who possesses a triple personality – a Frenchman, a Cockney and an actor. So a host of characters, many of whom will run through the next series of plays, in the case of Ann and Marty, through the next four or five plays.
Jeff: But Phil is not lost amongst all these great people, is he?
Jeff: He’s at home with them.
Oliver: He’s wide eyed and bushy tailed about it all. He is introduced to all these people. He meets Marty as a fellow poet, for of course, he has now decided he is a poet and introduces himself as such. Billy and John talk about their ideas, at that time, in relation to Mythras and the Egyptians. Billy is another man with a mind broken open. A very joyous character. He was an incredible man, wasn’t he, the original guy? Astonishing. When he used to go to some lunatic asylums, they always used to love to have him back, because he would do things like marry off old couples, who he thought liked each other. Everything he did was always for the good, really. They always wanted him back, whenever he went away. Phil is invited by Sandor to perform a poetical piece, "…with the jazz…", and he says he will. The Tom Davidson Trio are playing the jazz, and Tom, although he does not speak in this scene, will become a very significant character in later plays. He will indeed be the largest male role, after Phil, but not until Play Four. Before he performs, Phil has his first experience of amphetamines, a blast of Nostraline, the wadding from a nasal inhaler, along with everyone else in the café.
Jeff: Is that what Nostraline is?
Oliver: From a nasal inhaler. You could unpick it from the back, the like cotton wool stuff, and chew it. A crude for of amphetamine. I don’t know why there was crude amphetamine in there, but there was. A sort of pre-LSD world. As he starts to get high, we move into the long jazz and poetry sequence. Phil basically works from the recent story we found out about him being a Red Indian.
Jeff: That’s another remarkable piece of writing, isn’t it?
Oliver: Oh, it’s incredible.
Jeff: A long, lyrical poem that builds and climaxes like a piece of music. With references to ‘a spy for love’ and other strong images.
Oliver: When he gets to the end of the poem, he is given appreciative applause, but then they are burst in on by the police, who are bullying Sandor into closing his place down. He’s called Inspector Fleece and he knows there is nothing much going on there, but he’s a bit of a fascist. He may suspect about the drugs, but there is no alcohol being sold there and there is nothing he can really do. Generally, the thing in the play, Ken pointed this out to me, although people rage against institutions, like the police, the government, the civil service, generally when we meet individuals, they are open minded, or they can be reformed and are open to being converted. There are some exceptions to this, people who are rigid and fixed, and Fleece is one of them.
Jeff: Just thoroughly nasty.
Oliver: Yeah, just out for trouble, really. So Phil leaves that scene and goes off into the park with another character, whom we have not actually heard speak before this, called Audrey. He is already tripping, but Phil is just kind of exploring his mind. He is talking poetry but the poetry is not coming from him, or he feels it is not coming from him. And Audrey is really wowed by all this. He starts to have visions and thinks she is a Sybil, that knowledge is coming to him through her, through her eyes, and they start to dance. As they dance, this is the first of a recurring experience with Phil, where wind whirls around him. It will crop up at several other points in the play cycle. It is always a moment of enlightenment, when that wind comes. They are in St James Park, and this wind is like a feeling of being at one with the universe. And it is again the first time when he feels he is making a breakthrough, but he doesn’t have whatever it takes, be it courage or whatever, to take the leap into that oneness. He gets up to it, then he gets afraid, then he pulls away from it again. As if as a manifestation of that interference, when he lies down a policeman comes along and tells him to sit up on the bench. He then is about to use that as a excuse, when Audrey starts talking to him about energy and how energy is a flow, a different dimension. He is trying to understand, but these are still very far-out ideas to him.
Jeff: She tells him about being part of a group, doesn’t she, who are doing The Work?
Oliver: That’s right.
Jeff: I always interpret that as being like Gurdjieff stuff.
Oliver: Absolutely, but she doesn’t talk to him about it in any concrete sense that he could understand. But The Work is out there.
Jeff: The Work is a concept that the Gurdjieff people used to use. I know that’s part of Neil’s past, so I guess that’s what I always thought it was.
Oliver: They do actually talk about Ouspensky. They try to explain the ideas, they draw the magnetic centre. They end up making love on the park bench. They are interrupted yet again by a park-keeper, who drags them off to his hut. Not a lot to say about that really, save yet another typical Mitch Davies performance.
Jeff: He keeps dirty books in his cupboard.
Oliver: And they find that out. Rampant hypocrisy.
Jeff: I suppose the reason for this scene is that it is yet another instance of Neil setting up an authority figure so that we can laugh at him – pointing out the idiocy of institutional authority and all that. The irony of it.
Oliver: And the irrationality. People always seem desperately irrational. So from there they go up to Marty’s apartment. This is the first time Phil smokes dope – so he is getting it all fast and furious. I don’t know how much time is condensed in this, but the whole of this play, from the Scientology through to this scene is supposedly happening on the one day. We meet Ann and Marty, who are not a couple, but they are kindred spirits. We don’t really find out much about Ann, her character develops much later on. But Marty is a Dadaist, who talks to him in his own vocabulary, again very difficult to explain, but far more obviously poetic, more contrived in a sense, than Billy or King David, more artificial.
Jeff: And more contrived than Phil.
Oliver: Oh, absolutely. But Phil doesn’t develop a vocabulary of his own until much later on, not in the first few plays.
Jeff: No, but even now his poetry is more centred in the soul than Marty’s is.
Oliver: The thing about Phil is, we don’t hear him talking about these things. When he was a young boy, he had no preconceptions of what poetry should be.
Jeff: But even though s poetry is primitive it is still full of passion and fire, isn’t it? Whereas Marty’s comes over as quite contrived and cold.
Oliver: There are times when… To be quite honest, I have not seen anyone play Marty yet, even Elliott, and reveal what is underneath the surface. Because there is a person underneath there. It’s always been played as a creation. But there are moments when Marty talks to Phil and he realises just what is going on. When they are in Turkey and he starts to give the speech…
Jeff: Oh, I agree Marty comes on later in the play, but the way he is written in the beginning part is in a contrived sort of way. But we find out, as the play goes on, that there is something much deeper.
Oliver: Well, it is contrived, but that is entertaining to begin with. He’s just this fantastic creation. He’s a living work of art. (ed. Echoes of Gilbert and George?)
Jeff: We can laugh with him as well as at him. One never knows, does one, but I mean, how much of Ken there is in this stuff. He always said that he wrote down what Neil said, but I find it hard to believe that what was written down wasn’t filtered through Campbell. And through the Campbell way of filtering things. As someone who has had Campbell work on one of his pieces, you soon realise that they get fucked with, you know. So I thought there must be a lot of Campbell in the way some of the characters are written and the way Marty is written here would be an example. I mean for Phil to be intense all the way through, that’s not going to work. You’ve got to have the comedy characters for him to foil against.
Oliver: Oh completely.
Jeff: And it’s a beautiful balance of that, all this early stuff.
Oliver: We hear Dido’s story, about astral projections, back in Sam Widges again, fantastic speech. And what we were talking about, here’s a very normal guy that this has happened to and he’s just accepted it. Then we have Dominic’s story about acting and Barrymore. These two are great set-pieces
Jeff: Great moments for quality actors to get their teeth into.
Oliver: Phil goes off with Peter Dominic to meet Michael of the Cross. A very important scene. The only time Michael appears in the play. Michael speaks far more rationally, or more in a way that Phil would understand, one should say, in relation to people like King David and Billy at this stage. He’s talking about what he sees as a cosmic conspiracy to take over the planet and for the forces of darkness to destroy the etheric structures of the planet and it is easy for Phil to take it in. He is very affected by it. Because, at the end of the scene, when we have heard Michael’s story about Princess Alexandra and as a bot hallucinating on fungi, things like this, Phil takes very much what he has said to heart. Because he seems such a gentle and harmless old man, in a sense. The forces that he has seen raged against him seem quite horrifying, really. He’s arrested and sectioned regularly. Certainly the seeds are planted here for Phil’s attitude to the way Marty is treated in play seven and his deep suspicion of all mental hospitals and mental treatments. He takes St Michael’s last words, ("Keep your eyes and hearts open and don’t spread chaos through fear. Apart from that, you can do nothing.") and takes them into the last sequence of the play. The words "do nothing" sink in, he is in the middle of Trafalgar Square and this is where he stands still, the ultimate sort of subversive action. Did Ken tell you that they tried this in ’79?
Oliver: It wasn’t in Trafalgar Square, I think it was when they were in Edinburgh, they sent ten or twelve of them out onto the street to stand still. And, so the story runs, the police were out within ten minutes. Because of ten people doing absolutely nothing in the street. It’s got a strange sense to it.
Jeff: What’s this here?
Oliver: It’s a little improvised poetry that Dominic says.
Jeff: It’s rather good, isn’t it.
Oliver: When Sam did it, when this had to be Marty, he substituted one of Harry Fainlight’s poems. But, yes, it is good. Dominic just proving that he can do it, too. So the still Phil attracts the attention of some cops. They carry him off to their police box. There is one who is a bit of a fascist and a younger one. Phil is left with the younger one, who has been instructed by fascist pig to give him a ‘good going over’, bur Phil sort of converts him, really, this character called Larry Markle. This is just a wonderful logic that Phil applies, about the fact that he is a representative of the Queen, that consequently he is a defender of the faith, and as Phil is a Christian he should be defending him, not attacking him. It’s a fabulous process that. And Markle ends up taking off his police uniform and saying that he is going to jack it all in, that he will come down to Sam Widges and have his horoscope done and maybe become a poet. We will discover in Play Two that he does in fact jack his job in after a couple of months and goes off to St Martins to study painting. And that is the end of the first play.
Jeff: This must be a good process for you, mustn’t it?
Oliver: I’ve just gone through them again, so it’s kind of fresh in my mind. Okay. Play Two. Play Two begins with a long Scientology sequence.
Jeff: Very long. A terrific piece of actor learning.
Oliver: This goes through thirty-two separate memories of Phil’s. He is feeling rather shaken up. He has taken as his starting point that Billy has accused John Thrushman of being queer and he hasn’t really come into contact with homosexuals. He has become shaken up and feels he does not have a place of his own, he doesn’t belong. He has feelings of loss and shock. So they start going back through his memories, what with Trafalgar Square and getting beaten up by police, they go through all kinds of things: his first contact with flying saucers in Rhodesia, which again we will hear about a couple of other times, being surprised out on the boat to Rhodesia by this middle-aged woman wanking on the bottom bunk whilst her daughter is screwed on the upper bunk by an Italian steward, just a fantastic story. He goes back into his pre-Rhodesian years. This is all backstory we are getting now, stuff that happened before the play started. It is a brilliant piece of structure. The very first flying saucer experience, back through his teenage sexual awakenings, stories of his mother abusing him, hitting him, threatening him, all kinds of awful things. A long story about when he had a fight with a sports master at school. Bit of a shaggy dog story, in a sense, because the whole point of the story was that it was really weird having all this bizarre at school, he was never punished for it and it never had any ramifications. And that seems to be the point of this story. Again it’s a fabulous story, but its psychological import is nil. His fist experience of the modern jazz. Then, yeah, as he gets younger – 10, 9, 8, 7 – it’s all about his mum and how she shouted at him, his father. We do learn a little something about his father. He was close to him and his mother was jealous of his father’s love for him. And we learn about friends of his dying, when he was young and… oh gosh… it goes on and on and on… His sexual awakening when he slept in the same bed as his aunt heather, when he was six. His school destroyed by bombs. His pre-school years. It is relentless really. A powerful thing, this scene.
Jeff: And again, it is very well written.
Oliver: Yeah, it is, it is. There are very few consistencies of logic, incredibly. There is reference to the first time he started thinking, when he was four. That’s a great one, that is, I love that. When he hears one of the neighbours say that she isn’t really herself. Fantastic.
Jeff: Mrs Livermore.
Oliver: That’s right, Mrs Livermore.
Jeff: Mrs Livermore is a character referenced in one of Ken’s earlier plays, Skungpoomery, a play for children. It is interesting that she crops up here. Is that evidence of Ken’s contribution to the original script, or was it added later?
Oliver: Maybe we’ll never know. Anyway, it gets younger and younger and younger, and as it moves on the memories do start to get more extreme. So, John has to intercept and sort him out. The first is when his mother snatches away his little comfort blanket, his ‘fleece’, then when he was electrocuted by a wireless set.
Jeff: Wow, yes. That is a phenomenal story. This is the one big memorable story. At the core of this whole Scientology thing. And it goes on for quite some time.
Oliver: He goes over it three times. It seems to be kind of a standard thing, they always make them repeat a traumatic or powerful memory three times. Goes through that, and it is obviously very powerful, because it is an out-of-body experience. He actually realises that he has come out of his body, when he is thrown across the room by the electric shot, and then goes back into his body. Which incidentally, sorry, I should have mentioned, he has realised that at, the beginning of this sequence, that he does, when John is asking him the standard question, "Can you tell me something in this room that you can have?", he realises that he can now have his own mind, his own body, it is quite a moment that. This is a throwback. And then eventually, after that, that being his youngest memory, when he was eighteen months old, we suddenly go back to this weird memory from 18,000 BC, Earth Time. To this… well, we don’t know… we don’t know what civilisation it is… he says Earth Time… but is it on another planet? And he is being led into a room, with members of the controller’s army, he’s a member of the InterGalactic Brotherhood, they are obviously enemies. They lay him down on this hospital bed and they are going to trap him in his body and get his spirit to work for them. But he is going to force a heart attack. The first time he recalls the memory, he basically passes out completely. He is down on the floor, but then, eventually, John brings him around. John is completely freaked out by this.
Jeff: That’s the bit where he collapses and John has to lift him up?
Oliver: It is also the place where Hazel comes in, in the middle of it all, and thinks that John is giving him one up the arse. A bit of light relief in all the heaviness. And yet, it appears he tried to force this energy into his heart when they were trying to brainwash him, and he was completely out of his body then. It is funny, the similarities between coming out of this memory and coming into the memory of his human birth, in this lifetime, which he has in the Play Ten Scientology auditing, where he talks about something "…pushing me, sucking me, pushing me sucking me…" which takes him out of his body in this alien life and is the same as brings him into this life.
Oliver: Do you see what I mean? It is all the same image, the same image. And that energy, because he has got a fantastic… he’s got a flow at the end of it. That finishes that huge section.
Jeff: There is a strange concept in Illuminatus! of an evil force, known as the Lloigor, lifted from H P Lovecraft. I mean, Lovecraft had developed a whole mythology, called the Cthulhu Mythos, about the strange forces and energies that affect us, bring us into the world and make us do things that we do not necessarily want to do. And the Illuminati, which is this great conspiratorial that probably permeates all government and all institutions and what have you, are themselves controlled by the Lloigor, which is the lurking evil which exists inside all of us.
Oliver: Wow, oh my God! Lovecraft is scary.
Jeff: So there is something of that in all this.
Oliver: So, we go on to meet Hazel, who is the first of the main female protagonists, who features in plays two and three. Phil is obviously completely freaked out at this stage. John Thrushman goes off and he is kind of brought round by Hazel. She is sort of a quite gentle influence on him, has a very healthy attitude to sex, and sort of brings him around to that. She tells him something refreshing, that he should probably spend more attention to his cock, rather than less. She becomes his sexual partner, and they do have discussions, though she is not much of a psychological foil for him. Frankly, she is not altogether a particularly healthy partner for him, but they do stay together for quite some time. Phil has started taking amphetamines again. He stays the night with Hazel and hears a siren outside. He is very high and he is kind of going through things in his head, talking to L Ron Hubbard, and when he hears this siren he thinks it is the four-minute warning and he freaks out. We don’t discover where that siren comes from, we don’t discover what it is. Phil thinks it is the end of the world, runs outside, and his brain gets completely scrambled. It is kind of an essay in how far he hasn’t got – he just loses it completely. He is full of fear, and of course, fear is one of the big themes of the play, getting over fear, living without fear, living beyond fear. And at this stage he is still full of it, absolutely full of fear. When the siren stops, he is intercepted by King David. Great! I love this little exchange.
"None of us know, old boy."
"Thought I was dead…"
"You probably are, old boy."
Jeff: Yes, Dallas who played Arthur the Grocer.
Oliver: He went to Hyde Park Corner recently. He was making a film about the Shakespeare cult. Against the mythologising, not against Shakespeare himself, but against the whole mythologisation of Shakespeare. They tried to get into the Globe, but they would not let them in there, because they said they were taking the piss, he was all dressed up in a ruff and all that. But is was interesting in that it made them realise how much Hyde Park Corner has changed over the last thirty or forty years, ‘cause he was getting harangued by all these guys, the Marxists and the Black Panther guy, saying what he was doing was not worthy of Hyde Park Corner. Just because he was taking the piss out of Shakespeare, basically, on a stepladder with a big ruff and a camera on him and all that. He was interfered with by the police and all the other speakers and all this stuff, because there is this invisible censoring going on. As opposed to being able to say whatever you like at Hyde Park Corner.
Jeff: It always has sort of been a bit like that.
Oliver: Has it?
Jeff: I don’t think that’s completely different.
Oliver: I was just judging it by Billy McGuinness, that’s all.
Jeff: But Billy McGuinness was accepted. He was the right sort of speaker. What they didn’t like in Hyde Park, was like clowns. Because if you were a clown, they were. Billy McGuinness wasn’t a clown, far from it. He was a guy who spouted truth, philosophical truth. And McGuinness and the other established speakers would have been really upset if next to them there was somebody doing buffoonery. They have then been put in the same category as that.
Oliver: It does make sense, yes. Have you seen John’s film of Hyde Park Corner? The video that John’s got?
Jeff: John Joyce? No, I haven’t seen that.
Oliver: It’s an original ‘50’s documentary with some of Billy McGuinness. No commentary, just hand-held footage of Hyde Park Corner. It’s brilliant.
Jeff: I did go up there a lot, a bit later, about the late ‘60’s. And also there is Heathcote Williams’ book The Speakers. That was done as a theatre piece and McGuinness was a big character in that. It was done by Joint Stock. I think it was their first production. Max Stafford Clarke directed. It was done absolutely for real, with the audience in there like punters in the park.
Jeff: It was done in-the-round, or all round, promenade style. And it was terrific, that stuff, because it was so well written again, acutely observed.
Oliver: Great! So, Phil and Billy sit down and kind of start discussing things. Billy is trying to wake Phil up a bit. To teach him how to use the dope properly, because Phil sort of just has the odd puff, but doesn’t really enter into it, into the substance. This is where we learn about David’s backstory. About being once in the army and about giving away all his money, all of his possessions. And Phil’s fear of dying. McGuinness instructs him, but all very relaxed. Billy goes off and Larry Markle appears. This is where we discover that he has become an artist. And that is the end of that section. We then go into the whole sequence of Sam Widges and Sandor, the bits that were cut, but which Neil has reinstated now. We hear about the consequences of the raid in Play One. Of Sandor being taken to court by Fleece and winning. Because, basically, Fleece’s whole case was built on Sandor selling alcohol, but he doesn’t. So, eventually Fleece had to apologise to Sandor in court. But, all the same, Sandor hasn’t been taking care of how he runs the place and has accumulated huge bills. They have had their electricity cut of and all this sort of stuff. But Phil makes an offer to him to take Sam Widges over with him. Then we go back to David and more of his philosophy. A scene with King David where he eats a whole onion.
Jeff: Now, this is an incredible scene, isn’t it? The eating of the onion is one of those moments of theatre where actor and audience share a sensual experience. It seems to take forever, and as we watch him eat it, we sort of taste the onion ourselves, feel the tears welling up in our eyes. The longer it goes on, the more audiences laugh. It is such a relief when it is all over and it always gets a good round. And David’s dialogue here is like sparking all over the place.
Oliver: He realises that this isn’t the Earth, that this is Orion. And the elephant in the basement. That’s about the pockets, isn’t it?
Jeff: What, pulling lots of things out of the pockets?
Oliver: No, Ken was telling me this. The elephant in the basement is when you pull your pockets out and then it’s the elephant in the basement. So we have the onion thing and the Black Magic thing and then David pulls out his blueprints for a wireless set. He wants to get a wireless to play him ‘the old tunes’ – Knees Up Mother Brown and You are my Sunshine, or You are my Sweetheart, as he sings it. A lovely scene.
Jeff: But it’s like there is a level beyond it. The blueprints are so important that what they represent, whatever it is, must be made. It is about making contact, really, about getting the tunes. Getting the tunes because the tunes have to be got. There is a strange, deep-seated significance in all this stuff. It is hard to put your finger on it, but when you have heard it spoken, you feel that you have heard something quite profound. Not a bunch of nonsense.
Oliver: It is again one of the themes that comes up of seeing, really seeing. Seeing is not just seeing what is in front of you. Seeing is not just reading from the conditioned mind, the seeing is going beyond the programmes of your mind. It is like he says to Michael at the end of the first play, "I can’t see how the Crown can have anything to do with the survival of the planet, what’s that got to do with it." He cannot connect the ideas up.
Jeff: It’s like David is the supreme philosopher. Because what he is saying is ostensibly crank stuff, but it is like the greatest crank stuff that you ever heard, and on the face of it does not sound half as cranky as Kant, for example.
Oliver: Absolutely, I think David and Bob God, probably. But, yes, David is really one of the enlightened ones. We then move into a sequence with Hazel and Phil, and we go back into the whole Sandor sub-plot. First of all, Billy Walsh comes into the café and he is basically a protector. Because he gets on with Phil and Phil tries to brave him out, he is going to offer the protection for nothing, really.
Jeff: Was Billy Walsh one of the Kray gang.
Oliver: I’m not sure, actually. But later on he is done over by them. It is all around that same time.
Jeff: The British Gangster scene.
Oliver: Yeah. The Krays come in later on, because they take over Sam Widges. There are characters like Big Tiny and Les King, who are terrorising Reg, the Head Waiter at Widges. We have a story about how Reg has apparently nicked some of their earnings, from some robbery or other. They were going to kill him, but now they just want him to pay off the misses of the villain who he had inadvertently shot. There is all this kind of underworld stuff going on. At the same time, Sandor being very vague and spending all the money from the till and going out, eventually it all becomes too much for Phil and he says that either Sandor has to be replaced or him. So he offers to buy Sandor out, then discovers… it’s all a bit convoluted really… then discovers that Sandor, before he even went into business with him, has signed an agreement with a loan shark, called Arthur Toolit, who now owns the lease on Sams because Sandor did not keep up the payments on the loan. So somehow Phil and Hazel are going to sort that out, he is going to close down the pad jazz club and Hazel is going to work for a solicitor called Abrahams, who comes back into it at the end of this play. |They manage to laugh it off and we go into a sequence where Phil saying, "I feel as if I am drawing with my prick" – drawing Hazel while she is posing for him – and Audrey comes back in, and we are into, well, this threesome, really, winds up in a bit of a threesome. But we had already discovered that on the back of Sam Widges he is going to open up a jazz gallery called The Mingus, because he had discovered a place in Marshall Street, where Blake had lived. So he is going to put on an exhibition of Larry Markle’s stuff, Larry’s action painting. But Larry hasn’t painted anything to go in there, so they decide they are going to have this happening thing, with paintings done on the night, to jazz. So we have the painting happening, and we have the exhibition and it’s all a lot of fun. With the military gents buying the pictures…
Jeff: It’s a good device that he comes up with, about the military gents, that he gives all the paintings military titles and invites military-sounding gents from the phone book.
Oliver: I suppose another thing that one has to mention is the phenomenon of when you get a great extra group. This is a theatre piece that just takes off into another dimension when you have got that crowd of extras, who pop up doing whatever is required. Military gents, hippie parties, Sam Widges regulars.
Jeff: It creates such a great thing, for just a minute or two. I’d like to make a little diversion here, for the one thing that astounds me about The Warp is how ready people are to learn up quite big parts, like Kate Alderton learned all those pages of Krishnamurti for just one performance. That is quite an astounding thing, I feel. It sort of says something about the piece and the desire of people wanting to be in it. I mean, you learned up some quite significant pieces for the one that was done last.
Oliver: For the last one, yes. I don’t know how to explain it, really. Kate was saying the other day, that from an actor’s point of view, bearing in mind what a lot of theatre is like, there was the situation last May where forty of us, plus all the team putting the show together, and people helping each other out, willingly giving away parts. Just no problems with ego.
Jeff: It is so unlike other theatre, isn’t it.
Oliver: Absolutely incredible. Astonishing how people were and without any fuss. It just kind of happens, so much just happens around The Warp. I don’t really know how, it just does.
Jeff: It always struck me as a great phenomenon, that people would do all of that, often just for the once. When Kate did that Krishnamurti it was a stunning performance and, puff, there it went into the ether.
Oliver: Marvellous performance. She might be around for the next show, actually, she might be back in town. Anyway, Daisy pointed out to me that these early plays very much are filled with gathering information from everywhere, do you know what I mean? From David, and Billy, and all the people he meets. Then we have the Catholic priest he goes to talk to about Christianity, but he is then quite surprised, because the priest doe not talk about Christianity is a structured way like he thought he would. He tells him about Italian architecture, he tells him about Lorca, and Phil thinks he is rather bizarre, because he has not really got his head around the idea of ‘a body of Christ’, a sort of etheric ‘body of Christ’, it’s all to do with buildings and people going to church, things like that. He hasn’t really got past that. The priest tries to explain that to him. In fact, the priest has quite a sense of humour, whereas Phil is quite a humour-less sort of individual. He doesn’t really have a developed sense of humour. He is one of those people, and I know a couple of people like this, who… well, it’s good in a sense that you can be sarcastic to them and they don’t come down to the sarcasm, but it also means that purely playful or frivolous things are lost on them. It is weird, for Phil seems to be able to inspire that in other people, but cannot find it in himself. Ever, in the entire play. In the wake of meeting the priest, he wants to go to Europe. He has never been to Europe, in fact, apart from going to Rhodesia he has never been out of England before.
Jeff: He’s quite lacking in confidence, Phil, isn’t he? Or is he not?
Oliver: Well, certainly at this stage he is. He does gain in confidence.
Jeff: He will have a go for everything. He doesn’t hold back, like in the Sam Widges poetry bit, and all that. He doesn’t hold back, but he is never quite sure, is he? Never sure of himself? And I suppose there is something of Neil in that.
Oliver: I can see what you mean. Again and again in the play, Phil puts himself around people who are much more confident than him. He is lacking in confidence in as much as he does not have the conviction to take something all the way. He is always worrying that he is being dishonest. Neil and Phil surround themselves with people who can kick the bullshit out of them, but at the same time it does kind of prevent them from going all the way. Yeah. Yeah. So, we go to Paris and he bumps into Larry Markle again, with his girlfriend Zena. They are in a Parisian café. We get all the backstory as to why Phil has come to Europe. He has just been having endless trouble, from the police, from the gangsters. He has turned the club into a rock’n’roll joint. It is fascinating this, but it is probably too dense. I’m not sure this should be in the play really. I didn’t do all of this before. But what has happened is that this other villain, known as Sonny Plains, now we have not actually met Sonny Plains, which is a bit problematic. But he owns the freehold and Abrahams the solicitor now has the lease. The point is that Abrahams is now threatening to sell Sonny Plains the… Oh I don’t know, it all gets a bit complicated. Anyway, there is all this shit going down, and this is Phil’s feeling, too. That it is all a bit too much and he has just run away. It is just a feeling you get.
Jeff: I suppose that’s all we need to know, really. That he has run away from a very frustrating situation.
Oliver: It is, yes. It has all become too much, too heavy. He sees that Larry and Zena are in a constant state of beating each other up, verbally and physically. As one of Larry’s friends, Phil has to take some of Zena’ flack as well, and he really upsets her when he tries to defend his own position. We are introduced at this point to Hans. At this stage Phil is on his way to Florence and he needs to kip in Paris. Now that he has pissed off Larry’s girlfriend, he has nowhere to stay. So Larry introduces him to Hans, originally a German mechanic, now living in Paris.
Jeff: We have seen him in the background, through all the Larry/Zena/Phil conflict stuff, playing pinball.
Oliver: And turning round with a leering smile at various points. He is just about to introduce Hans to him, when this woman comes in, who Larry tells us is called Cynthia. She sits down at the table and collapses. Phil brings her round, using the Scientology processes he has picked up. And she launches into her ‘Laser Christ Woman’ speech. Which again is pretty far out stuff. Larry is freaked out by this, but Phil associates it with the wind he had felt in the park with Audrey. Phil is kind of in tune with all this and they take Cynthia back to Hans’ flat. And Hans starts chucking some really weird ideas his way. Hans is very important to this.
Oliver: This is the real point at which Phil breaks through or gets woken up to something. You know, this is the first time he gets really freaked out, really goes to the edge of something. There’s a little bit of that when you get the mind of God in the park, but the scenes with Hans are quite seminal to his development. He starts getting into the Eifel Tower, six-dimensional space, cybernetics, all kinds of things coming his way. And it’s all too much for Hans, it’s all very weird. And we leap, in this version, from the scene with Hans, where Phil realises that he has to wake up to all the things around him, to a long speech of Phil’s, who is now in Spain. Now partly because what Hans has done to his mind and partly, he says, because of the new French shoes he has bought, if he had his old shoes he would be alright. And he gets a lift in a bubble car, with this deaf and dumb German, down to the Spanish-French border. Cor, it’s a hard speech this, it’s very lonely, a very isolated speech. He is completely on his own, the German is asleep in the car, he is convinced the guard wants to kill him, we don'’ know if he is on drugs, but it seems that way, it’s night-time, he’s cold, it’s pitch-dark, and man, he just raves! It’s very scary – a dark speech, this. And he is almost thrown back into his past life. It was a real surprise to me when I read this again, because this is stuff that has been reinstated, and it really comes out of nowhere. The tone of this speech… I suppose this happens all the time to Phil, when he goes onto Class A drugs. This is the bizarre thing about Phil as a character, is that he never has a good trip on Class A drugs. But he keeps on taking them. You know what I mean. Because he thinks that is some way of breaking through. But he never does. His moments of enlightenment, when he does, are never when he is taking mind-expanding substances. Whether that is because of his fear, or whatever, one doesn’t know. [Aside: you should get Lisa to talk to you about this guy she has met in Tavistock Square, recently. This guy who is an Ancient Egyptian she has been having lunch with. Quite amazing. And he has been saying to her, quite rightly, that "You must start to smoke less, because you realise that everything that smoking has given you, you can develop perfectly well yourself. You don'’ need to smoke the marijuana to release it. An amazing guy, an amazing guy.]
Jeff: Like one of the characters Phil might have met.
Oliver: Amazing. Okay, so after that weird speech, there is a scene witthout Phil in, which I haven’t read, because I am not in it. Which is with Marty and Hazel and Audrey, talking about the rest of Phil’s trip. Marty is making a living sculpture out of Hazel and pasting ripped up bits of paper on her. Phil comes back to England and all the shit hits the fan with the whole criminal underworld thing. First of all, he discovers that the guy he has left in charge of the café has been kicked out and some operation connected with the Krays is now running it, using it as a drinking club for villains. The guy who was protecting it for him has had his throat cut, done in by the gang. He tries to get it the CID to sort it out, but when the CID find out the Krays are behind it, they tell him he’d be better going off back to France. "The weather’s better there, sir." It’s a great scene, the little CID scene. On top of that, he finds out that Abrahams the solicitor has sold up the lease and has also taken out two years of fees from the money he borrowed from and he is basically left with nothing, and he freaks, really. With some justification. He goes back to Sam Widges and decides that if they are going to have it, he is going to break the whole fucking place up. He smashes up all the furniture and the bar. It’s quite chaotic this last scene, the scene in Sam Widges and one in the Mingus, the gallery, as it is. It is all kind of frenetic and then there is sort of a catharsis, with Billy’s finger sequence, which is the end of Play Two, now.
Jeff: That is a really incredible scene, isn’t it?
Oliver: Billy with the Pain of the World in his finger. An incredible scene.
Jeff: A very long and moving speech from Billy McGuinness, that is full of lyricism and pathos. And then Phil’s poem, a sort of mock epic, a bit like "On the Good Ship Venus", but geared to his own situation:
but distance makes us shudder,
for in between the light and dark
a ship can lose its rudder.
HAZEL: Bless you, Phil. Bless you, Billy. Bless you, Dominic. (THEY GO TO HOLD HANDS IN A CIRCLE.)
PHIL: Look! Billy’s finger is back to normal. It looks pink like a baby’s finger.
BILLY: It’s been reborn, man. It touched God.
Jeff: Great stuff! We’ll take a break…
The Warp in Outline and
in Performance (Part Two)
Oliver: Okay, Play Three. It starts in Spade George's where, we have already discovered at the end of the previous play Phil and Marty are meeting up to score some dope and then they are catching the night train to France. They are actually ultimately off to India. They go to Spade George's, pick up some stuff. Great character, we never encounter him again, but he's fantastic, straight out of black xploitation. They hear about a raid that the police had made on George's and then Phil and Marty leave. They go down to Notting Hill Tube Station and Phil is very, very stoned. He has this vision of being pulled onto the line and light coming out of his eyes. And he has kind of a moment of enlightenment, really. Or maybe he does, maybe he does not. He starts to believe that Marty is already dead, even though Marty is standing next to him. The reason he thinks Marty is so still is that he is just a projection from another world, from another plane of existence. But then, because he doesn't have the courage as he perceives it to jump onto the railway line, which is what he has been told to do, he sees himself as a coward. Yet again. It happens again and again in the play. He admits it. It is one of the great things about Phil, you have to say that, is that all of his… it's one of the great things about the play, too… that the man is portrayed with all his failings. And also a lot of the time, usually at a later date, not then and there, but he will eventually own up to all of his failings. And then we are in Europe again. Now that they have been reinstated, there are two trips abroad now, instead of the one, as was. In Paris, under the Eifel Tower, shaken up by the police. This is all when the Algerian, the anti-Algerian riots are going on, this section. We hear gunfire to the background. Marty meets Hans, kindred spirits. Phil is left with Hans and once under the Eifel Tower, puts Phil directly underneath the tower, positions him quite specifically underneath it according to certain co-ordinates. He tells him to look up and these voices come out… from the etheric, from somewhere… I have no idea what it means… I have no idea what any of this means. It is like that with the Ed Gale stuff, too [in Play Ten] I have no idea what that's about either. It is really too far out. And Phil can't take it either. He goes back to Hans' flat and he's still trying to explain it to him. This is a very good scene, with Hans. Talking about the programming of thought, at school, you know. Getting them to think what they want you to think. The programmers. The chairmen on the board. The teachers there to make you think you will not survive, unless you can imitate the shit plastered across the board. In a sense it might seem quite obvious, but I suppose it's a good scene. And this is what I mean. That Phil is, although he is very freaked out by this stuff, he is starting to think, in that sense. Hans encourages him to go to see Krishnamurti in Paris and this is a great scene… What can one say…? Phil is trying, he really is trying, but he can't quite get there.
Jeff: I have heard it said that Krishnamurti's philosophy might be a bit homespun, a bit fluffy, with little substance.
Oliver: There might be something in that. It is interesting, people come away from talks by Krishnamurti and they have all heard different talks, they all remember their own version of what he said. It seems that his function, on whatever level, was not what he said, but how he made people think. It is not as if someone would read the Maxims of Krishnamurti. But what he stood for, how he said things, how he thought.
Jeff: And it is this very low-key delivery. You ask a question and there is long thought process before it gets answered.
Oliver: That is something that comes across in Madame Blavatski's Baboon, how much of it do you tell is shaman or charlatan or what? So Krishmamurti spins his ideas. And again it is a lot to do with fear and holding back, breaking through to the broadness of reality. "You believe that the barrier which separates you from reality has a real existence." A lovely scene that one. Then we have another lightening trip around Europe. It si very much a fun thing. I think in terms of the structure, this is just a bit of a romp, really. Because you have a Chinese ambassador in Greece…
Jeff: Though it turns out to be the Formosan embassy, what we now know as Taiwan. It is only when he asks Phil if he is a Communist spy, that he twigs this. It is a delightful scene for an actor, with the mock Chinese poetry and all that.
Oliver: Next we have the bit with the two Turks and stories about their travels. These two Turks attempt to rape Hazel, and with Mitch doing it, even an attempted rape becomes funny, gets lots of laughs. A lot of stories, really. Again Marty, this is the bit I was talking about, Marty… "Oh, what he makes will be destroyed – his serious work has killed his joy. His eyes can’t see, his ears can’t hear, corrupted by the fear of fear!" Marty is quite caustic about Phil - "Oh, be careful of Phil, Phil! He’s a pumped-up balloon, filled with the stale air of approval, fearing deflation from disclosure." There are these little moments, where you understand perfectly well that Marty knows what is going on. He's just looking at it from his particular viewpoint, you know what I mean. And I haven't yet seen that brought out by an actor, I must say. So we have that scene with Marty and then we are off again. Turkish Mayor, the Arab Customs Officer, all fantastic characters. Then we are back in Paris, with Hazel very freaked out by the whole thing, as she will be until the end of this play. She gets freaked because she was quite normal, one who say, when she first came into it, her character goes way out and gets very dark, self-destructive.
Jeff: She is not really one of the mystical people, is she?
Oliver: No she's not.
Jeff: She's on her own little trip.
Oliver: Phil is going through a lot of problems, because he is trying to smuggle out some dope. Larry takes them to a Turkish café in Paris and again Phil gets very stoned and he ends up in Hans' room. This last one with Hans is a tough one to perform, especially when you are doing the stuff with the dream machine. It is really hard to act when you are looking at a dream machine. You just get drawn into this pulse.
Jeff: Lovely line that, "It's very hard to act when you are looking at a dream machine." It is an fantastic machine that, isn't it?
Oliver: The red one? Yes, it is John Joyce's and we have had some really freaky moments with it. But it always really spins me out. He tells the story of how they went down into the Metro, in the middle of the Algerian riots. They went into the Metro and it was filled with police. They got onto this train, with people staring at them. And the next day, the newspapers say the Metro was closed… The combination of the dream machine and the dope, Phil is just pretty freaked out. At the end of it, Hans turns off the machine and asks Phil to look at his reflection in the mirror and Phill sees himself as an alien at that point, spacemen on a mission to save Earth. It's a freaky scene to do, that's all I can say, really. And we are back in England, with the customs official - another great scene. The controllers at the Dover customs office, we don't know quite who they are or why they are there. But they know everything, they have all the knowledge. As a consequence of the Hans scene, Phil is in a freaked out state and this carries over into this scene and beyond. He gets very ill, he is jaundiced. The Mingus has been all boarded up. He goes off with Lisa the Whore for Christmas and gets sucked off by her. Then he ends up back with Hazel, fairly out of it with jaundice now. It says he is orange with jaundice by this point. He is pretty high on illness, disease and hallucination, whatever. I love this scene. He leaves Hazel, leaves it all behind. She has become a psychic policeman as far as he is concerned. And he wanders out into the street…. And he bumps into Billy. This fiddler… this is a new bit… this fiddler is playing in the street and Phil is listening to him, along with a young painter. Billy comes up to him and tells him a story. A few minutes before, this fiddler had been playing Mozart when a couple of soldiers turned up, and when they start taking the mickey out of him he tells them to keep their mouth shut when he is playing classical music and bangs their heads together. And we find that Phil has moved into this new place in Finsbury Park with a guy named Adrian Jackson, who Billy says works for the ministry of information. Again, he is one of the controllers. We don't meet Jackson until a bit later. Phil is better, he has recovered by this time. This is when we have the scene with Phil and Billy about the Bible, about the body of Christ. Very good stuff, this. History of murder and lies. He talks about the Tower of Babel. "The tribe had multiplied from Noah. The bastard did not like the fact that they all spoke one language." And the fact that what we call the God is the Devil and the Christ is something else. They talk about all that. He is going to take him along at that point to the British Museum, but he has to sell the dope that they have picked up in Paris with Larry. They have a funny seal with the dealers, when Phil distracts them by doing a bizarre dance scene to "Take the A-Train" So he then goes to the British Museum and meets Billy there. He looks at the Sphinx, then he looks at a stela, whatever a stela is, some piece of Egyptian art. [ed. an upright pillar] Through the drugs, he really thinks he starts to see something, but one of the museum professors comes along and accuses him of not knowing at all what Egyptian art is all about. Phil is telling him that he needs to see, that as head of the department and starts to talk to him about space people coming down to primitive man. And at this point they start to carry him out, but he carries on spouting the point while he is being carried out, getting louder and louder, about how the Monkey People just wanted to steal the technological know-how of the Space People and so on. The attendants threaten to arrest him. So he goes outside with Billy, pretty fragile, pretty shaken up, having had some kind of vision, but then it has all turned rather dark. He sees a giant wheel where the sky is and thinks he is going mad. He just wants to go home really. It is a great scene this, really great.
Jeff: Yeah, it is.
Oliver: A fabulous piece. The last one is where he does go home. He has gone back to his flat, and there is this lovely little scene with the guy who owns the flat. They come in and Phil is completely out of it for some reason and the boss of this big official company… ehm, yes, weird stuff there… do we know where they are coming from? "Or for that matter, Mr Masters, you could ask Kit Marlowe, he's an expert on flick knives between the shoulder blades. You can time-travel, I take it?" And Phil is screaming. He screams, running from the room, from these controllers. And in the last scene he dies and is reborn, in his mind. He decides he has got to move on and leave Hazel. And Hazel is very… yeah she is at the bottom of her cycle, this is the last time we see her, at the end of three. She ends up with Larry, while Phil certainly thinks he has had some sort of enlightenment. He is going outside of their life. He is going to look after the basement of his self and get it all in order, really. He walks out of the door at the end of this scene… and into a new life!
Jeff: Yeah, good ending, I always like this ending:
PHIL: Is it? Well, I hear love calling me right now, calling me to leave you both to your illusions... of love.
HAZEL: Fuck off! Fuck off!
Oliver: Fuck off. Yeah, it's great. Of course one would have to say that there are many moments like this where it is difficult for me to talk about doing things from Phil's point of view. Because he always believes that he is in the right. That is one of the great things in the show. The audience is watching it and thinking he is being a bit of a wanker.
Jeff: I must say, I have come round very much on The Warp, you know. Because I did used to think that this was like… this was like… Neil on such a fucking wank trip, that it was unbelievable. And I always used to think… the thing that used to freak me out, was to see Neil as Phil Masters. It used to be such a weird thing, like here's this great heroic figure, and when you put Neil into him, it all seems a bit implausible. Like, "Come on, Neil, pull the other one!" But I must say, I have come round to it, after all these years. It is terrific stuff.
Oliver: I suppose there is a sense in which he is not a hero, like we normally see heroes.
Jeff: Yeah. I think it was the way Russell used to play it, to be honest. Russell played him as more of an heroic figure. He was like a superman, very in control of himself and his destiny. It was the super performance of the superman. It was then that I used to think it was over the top, going on for too long about things.
Oliver: He is very charismatic to watch.
Jeff: But I think the way you play it is very different.
Oliver: A very powerful way into that was seeing footage of Neil
on the video. I had never actually met him until two days before The Warp.
I'd only seen those two little extracts on the video. And that was very
helpful. Because it is written in his rhythms, his way of talking.
Play Four. The School. Now called the Study School.
Just near Baron’s Court tube. Yes, still there, still has regular Dervish turnings.
Oliver: Yes, but you can only go in by invitation. You have to know someone who is studying there. But they have lots of different philosophy courses, Ouspensky, and otherwise, meditation courses, stuff like that.
Jeff: And it’s called the Study School?
Oliver: I think so, or the Study Centre. Literally, if you come out of Baron’s Court tube, and you turn left and left again, right on the main road there, walk along, walk down there a couple of hundred yards, and it’s just right there. So there they meet Dr Bee. This is the Ouspenskian school where Phil is studying.
Jeff: I used to be part of a Gurdjieff school in Chorleywood.
Oliver: There’s a new piece about Gurdjieff and Lloyd Wright. LePage’s new piece is about Gurdjieff and Frank Lloyd Wright. The Geometry of Lyricals. Anyway, Dr Bee. Another one of the teachers, really. Talks about amphetamines, things from other dimensions, telepathy. Brings in Gurdjieff and Ouspensky into the background. At this point, Phil is getting a lot more… well, not more equal, but he has learned a certain amount. There are certain things he knows, but at the moment he does abuse his knowledge a lot. That becomes clear when he first meets Meg and the way he treats women. There is only so much he’s learnt. I think. Oh, there are loads of ideas in this. It’s a good discussion, this. Another very good scene. I’m not sure what one takes from it, into the play. I’m just trying to think, though. This is the last time… this is the end of the big sweep of the learnings, in the Warp, after this it does come up now and again, but this is the end of him gathering information. He does kind of go off on his own after this. At the end of this, we have the Wilhelm Reich shaking. All kinds of different ideas going on in there. And this is where he meets Meg. A key moment. This is a beautiful scene, where he meets Meg, his wife to be. He introduces her to dope and Ezra Pound. But she is very much her own woman, right from the very beginning. It is one of the things I like about this. Although she… you know what I mean, she has her own pattern of thinking. It is a love scene, really. Pretty much, close as you get. Oh, yes and the discussion about the octave of spiritual enlightenment, spiritual development, which they go through and she gets high. An interesting concept. More poems…
Jeff: Very moving with you and Nina doing that.
Oliver: It is a really beautiful scene. I really liked doing that with her. She is not adverse to doing it again, now. Probably not right away, but she said the other day that she hates the thought of never doing it again.
Jeff: That’s nice.
Oliver: This is the beginning of that whole idea of this time… I don’t know where we are getting to now, mid-sixties maybe, of the idea of relationships. Working that whole thing out. Of commitment, and staying, that you are always really alone. Play Four is the most about that, really. Who people sleep with and how you deal with that. The relationship thing. How people were just assessing that, reassessing it. It comes across of very powerful, when I first saw the end of the 1979 videos, Ken and Neil are being interviewed, and saying it was a time when people really felt that they could change the world, fundamentally change the world, and from the grass roots up. That comes across, I think, with the way people started trying to conduct their relationships.
Jeff: For sure, Ken was on some sort of trip, here. Right from Illuminatus! through to Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy at the ICA, it was a big, nothing could go wrong biz. Everything was working. There’s a very interesting little film made by the Arts Council, called “No Problem”, that recounts all this. Ken and Neil’s interviews are part of that.
Oliver: So next we have a big happy sequence. Happy, snappy, zappy, and then down again. Meg walks out. They are just sort of working things out. They are working out their relationship and then she becomes pregnant. Phil runs another café in a shop that Paul Shelly has bought. And we have the scene between Paul and Phil talking about UFOs, the first serious discussion in the play, talking about UFOs and extraterrestrials. And about the zodiac designs around Glastonbury. Paul disses him about UFOs, but the scene is another one of the conversions, that Paul gets… John Michel/Paul Shelly gets converted. But of course this is a bone of contention. But certainly Paul Shelly gets turned round…
Jeff: The character does… we are not sure about John Michel.
Oliver: Absolutely. And Stonehenge being charged up with electricity. Great discussion scene. It is interesting looking at it to say which scenes actually move things along and which scenes are just there to be interesting for themselves. Jenny comes in, who is taking over the flat. She takes him back to her flat. We hear about her version of UFOs as well. It’s rather different from his, because for her they are not things, they are places of mind, as opposed to objects. Phil is just sort of getting on with his life at this time. But then we have the great acid scene, the Peter Dominic acid scene. This is the first time… certainly the first time Peter Dominic has… very early acid. It had probably just come over from the States. And they both trip together. I don’t know, but I’m assured by those who do know that this is a spot on representation of someone tripping on powerful acid.
Jeff: There was a lot of acid done in those days. I was a Mescaline man myself. Very pure stuff, like they used in hospitals.
Oliver: So, the acid trip. Which goes badly. It is the first time he faces, how he puts it, how he faces the void. It is a phrase and an idea that crops up again and again, of being without a self, of not knowing who you are, but being able to recognise yourself. At the same time, one of the reasons all the fear is going on is because his girlfriend is pregnant and he has to get married in order to be present at the birth. This is all going on at the same time. So he leaves Dr Bee’s school, because he doesn’t think that is the answer to it. Because having had this bad trip, he thinks the school is too safe. It is kind of, as he puts it, a caricature of the real event. That it is not the real thing. The doctor tries to talk him out of it, but he won’t have any of it. And he goes through the marriage ceremony, although he doesn’t want to, in order to be present at the birth. So he is married. He goes to Olympia and meets a tramp. He is another one of the thinkers, but he doesn’t seek this one…
Jeff: Olympia the big exhibition place?
Oliver: Yeah, this scene takes place in “the basement, second floor under Olympia.” He describes it in the stage direction as: “A scene from Sam Widges which has been struck by an evil ray, reducing the energetic scene to a slightly warmed-up Madame Tussaud’s Chamber of Horrors.”
Oliver: The tramp has some pretty far out ideas about the Space People coming down to primitive races, that kind of thing. The Egyptians still being around and being a blend of two different lines. I don’t really follow it fully.
Jeff: More very well written weird shit.
Oliver: Phil gets freaked out by the whole thing. I suppose it’s because he is married and trying to earn a living. And then he gets off on this trip that he is going to have to live from feeling and not from assumptions, to live off one’s inner feelings, that he is going to make a living from doing what he feels is best for him to do, rather than what other people or other influences say he should do. I’m surprised it takes him so long to get to that stage, really. I can’t remember quite how old he is at this point, but anyway… this is made manifest in the iceberg of conclusions speech, the iceberg of conclusions situation. Meg is saying to him that he has to go out and make money, that they have a baby now and that’s the end of the story. And he is saying that, no, there is something greater that she does not understand. And he tries to explain it to her. One again, one of the great things about this speech is that both viewpoints are equally valid. Certainly, it is wonderful watching women watching this scene, because they sympathise exactly with what she is saying, and yet there is this incredible philosophy going on at the same time. How do you make the whole thing work under those circumstances. This results in an argument between him and Meg and he moves into the room next door, where we then see him and Ann coming back from seeing “Wholly Communion”, the Albert Hall poetry bash, with Ginsberg and loads of other great poets. And he has sex with Ann and Meg bursts in, sort of catching them at it, I suppose. It is concerned with other things, because Bill Major is the chap who runs the house, whose patron has bought the house they are in, is running around with a loaded gun saying that he is going to shoot Phil, because Phil has accused him of being a charlatan, because he doesn’t practice in the right way as an artist.
Jeff: And Ann is…?
Oliver: I don’t think we meet her between the Sam Widges and Marty’s place scenes and until here. In Plays Two and Three she doesn’t appear at all. So after this showdown with Bill Majors, they decide that they are going to move up to Yorkshire to a house that Meg’s father has bought for her.
Jeff: In Howarth.
Oliver: In Howarth, with all the Bronte associations. The is a lovely scene in the DHSS when Phil gets to Yorkshire, where the DHSS officer, who is another of those figures of authority, who seems to be intimidating, until she finds out Phil is a poet and turns out to be sympathetic and amiable.
Jeff: Like Snarkle, later on.
Oliver: Yes. Though Snarkle is a bit more menacing, darker. Mr Snarkle. I have realised, of course, that Snarkle should be played as Tony Blair, in fact. I think it would be great to do all that. And then Arthur the grocer, of course.
Jeff: Oh yeah, the cosmic grocer.
Oliver: One of the really great figures in the play. Great stories, well told. Yes, there is a great awakening, here in Howarth. Lots of people that he gets in touch with. This goes right through to Four and Five, the Yorkshire Plays… they flit about a bit, up and down to London. Jack is another one and we go into a sequence with Ann really freaking, going out of her mind, thinking that Phil is really Christ. She is getting very darker and paranoid. It seems that she has been spiked with STP… What is STP?
Jeff: It was a powerful form of amphetamine with particular hallucinogenic qualities – serenity, tranquillity and peace, maaan!
Oliver: So Phil has been looking after her, really. There also starts to happen about here, one of the less attractive things about Phil, when he starts to think of himself as a potential guru. It all starts with Ann, I think. He always says that he doesn’t want to be a guru, but he always seems to be demanding it. We have all that, and this is, of course, when we first meet Tom.
Jeff: Tom Davidson, the other major male character who threads through The Warp. We briefly see him in the early Sam Widges scene, playing but not speaking. He really enters the story here.
Oliver: Tom’s story – the last section of Four, the last sequence, there’s really quite a lot of it – is about the love triangle between him and Tom and Meg, is the kind of the centre of it. But this is laced through with Ann taking her revenge on him by spiking his joint with junk of some kind, smack or heroin or something. This is when he has the really bad trip, the really bad one, the horror of horrors. Largely because of Ann saying something. But they're in somebody's mind, that the whole universe is someone's imagination, that all dimensions are a conventional illusion. This is probably his lowest point, his worst state of mind. Thinking about it, lots of the difficult points are probably, not surprisingly the moments of greatest fear and panic…
Jeff: I guess there're the hardest to play, as well. These are the points where I felt the way Russell used to play it, that this was Neil being really self-indulgent.
Oliver: Oh, really?
Jeff: Yes, because in order to make this stuff work it has got to have a sensitivity about it hasn't it? I'm not suggesting that Russell could not act with sensitivity, it is more a matter of style. The style that Russell adopted for his performance was quite an intense one, quite declamatory, quite heroic and with lots of panache. Very powerful, but it often appears self-indulgent in the writing, particularly in these wallowing moments. Whereas, it ain't all that self-indulgent, really. It is describing something quite profound.
Oliver: That's what I mean. There are very few times when I'd really fault the writing. It's just a matter of finding the right tone to perform it in. And there is nothing else to sort of judge it from, unless you've got first hand experience of this sort of scene.
Jeff: And Russell did have to pioneer the development of this epic. So, don't get me wrong, I have the greatest of admiration for what he did. It is just that hindsight, the passage of time and the benefit of more contemporary readings of this role are beginning to reveal greater depths.
Oliver: I absolutely agree. There is a scene with Tom, where he feels he is losing his soul, where he likens himself to a boiled-up dishcloth, and another with Marty, where he reiterates his sense of loss and where Marty just torments him. But eventually he comes down off this very long and convoluted trip, only to get back. There is the wonderful scene with the Peterborough ticket collector.
Jeff: Yet another authority figure who Phil turns on his head, who is made to see the very absurdity of his situation, that demanding tickets from people who have far greater problems in their lives might be somewhat futile.
Oliver: Wonderful scene. He gets back to Howarth to find that Tom has been up there, that Meg is now in deeply love with Tom. And that is what the last sequence is about. It is all kind of trying to work it out in his head, trying to be noble about it. Trying to be, but probably not really being, one feels. Saying noble things but not being able to believe them for himself. He tries to get over it by writing poetry, by saying he loves them, by hypnotising Ann, giving here a great chemical free trip, and then gets over it. This sequence is the one section of the play where I feel we never got the tone right. It always felt kind of cheesy, and I don't think with the writing. It did sometimes work in rehearsal, but never in performance.
Jeff: Why do you think that is, then?
Oliver: I think it is partly to do with the fact that people, certainly of our generation, find it hard to access this whole thing of working out relationships. There is part of us that thinks all the working out and being selfless doesn't work, people don't function that way. I feel that. So how to act that sincerely is tough. But it isn't really about that, it's about acting the tension between the beliefs you want to believe in and the selfishness and jealousy that you are really feeling. Getting that together.
Jeff: Because it can come over just like people carping at each other. And when that happens relentlessly, that carping, it becomes difficult to cope with.
Oliver: I agree. But the thing is, they are not really carping at each other, they are kind of spouting noble thoughts. And if you just spout those it appears like hippie nonsense. So you have to find the tension between what they are saying and what they are feeling. At this point. I was never quite happy with it, really.
Oliver: It all gets resolved in the end by Phil sort of swallowing his pride. The thing is, I'm not sure how genuine this is, when he says he has been treating Meg like the mother he wanted to have. I suppose that is true. That's what makes her think that he is being selfless and they all come together in this love triangle. And he and Meg are happy again, then. I don't know. It appears they have resolved things, but have they really? Anyway, that is how that play ends…
Jeff: With Ann singing the White Star song and with the happy trio, the love triangle of Meg, Tom and Phil staring benignly out at us.
Oliver: Good. Shall we go on. While we are on a roll? Play Five. This is where the mother comes in, just for this one scene. One scene in Five and another one in Eight. Yeah, so Phil and Meg going back to try to make some sense with his mother and father. Meg immediately upsets the mother, quite irrationally, by opening the window blind. She never opens the blind. And it all turning out as a complete disaster, frankly. Because there is this all thing about the mother's best room, there is only her allowed to go into the sitting room. And she finds him changing the baby in there. They are kicked out, basically and reduced to claiming that his parents are like the Gestapo. In return, his mother's parting comment is cutting and revealing: "The next time I want to see you is when you’re in your coffin!"
Jeff: You can't get stronger rejection than that. Where is it that his parents live, we have come away from Howarth haven't we?
Oliver: Yes. His parents live in Torquay. There is a scene with Mary, which I lobbied to have cut, because in terms of the 24 hour play, this is the real low point for me. Sitting through a two page speech, completely still, is virtually impossible. It's about this whole thing of hearing voices, and the vicar at Cockington, and the Christian Network, and all that. I think it's all a bit dull. That was the only scene that I would willingly cut. The entire thing. Then they come back. They are in a flat in Haverstock Hill. Meg is taking her first LSD trip. King David is back, having found the Holy Grail, an old broken gravy jug, and an Ancient Chinese Sword, a rosty old bar off a bedstead. They don't come together really. This is the scene just before they go off to Ireland, to the flying saucer conference, and Meg is tripping on LSD. David does not cope with it very well, he kind of reacts rather strangely to it. Or not strangely, as ever. What he is saying makes a lot of sense…
Jeff: …if you come at it from the same direction that he does.
Oliver: They go off to the UFO conference, the Lusty Beg Flying Saucer Conference. They are given directions in a most convoluted and extraordinary way by another of those strange characters they meet along the way. At the conference they hear all the stories there… there is a young lad, Gerald, the abductee, who is questioned by a woman called Melinda, who will come into the story soon, and by Paul Shelley, who has already appeared. We have Gerald's incredible speech about his abduction, but he eventually storms out because he is being questioned too personally about the alien who he is in love with and who is now carrying his child, apparently. And Desmond, the organiser of the conference, tries to cover up the sort of embarrassment of it all by talking about Orion and some of George Adamski's ideas. Phil starts getting more and more angry because Desmond is talking about the need of being 'good'. "With the light you can confront the dark." Phil has a very passionate speech about the fact that 'good' and 'evil' are irrelevant ideas and that what is important is honesty in contacting other people. If one is honest. That no real contact can be made with aliens until we have sorted ourselves out first. A very good speech, I think. Very passionate. He storms off. And he meets with Melina and Michael. Michael Roner and Melina, who will come in and out of the story for some time to come.
Jeff: Now who is Michael Roner?
Oliver: He's the one who, after this scene, we meet him at Sanymouth, then he comes up to Freya, revealing Freya to be infested with Alistair Crowley's influence. He comes up in Play Six and puts on Crowley's cloak…
Jeff: Yeah, I know. I hadn't realised he came in as early as this.
Oliver: He also comes in a little later in Howarth, saying, "Phil, I want to be your disciple…" He's a bit of a skriker. We hear Melina's story about how they stopped a friend's heart at school in a mock seance and how she was traumatised by that. We go onto the Aldiss speech. Is that Brian Aldiss?
Jeff: It's spelt with a double-s, could be. No, it says here that he is a psychotherapist who specialises in autistic children, an educated cockney.
Oliver: Anyway, it is another strong speech, the one about the Controllers and going out to the country house, all of that. There is a very strange through-line here. But this is the play of the Big Speeches. Phil is concerned about all the lounging around and announces he will give a Philosophical Speech the following evening. This philosophical talk is an inspired piece. This is one of those moments, and more than any other time in the play here, when Phil is talking to the audience as well as to the characters.
Jeff: An element of preaching?
Oliver: A wake-up call. An incredible speech. When you first read it there is something of a rocky rhythm there, but it does go through very easily in performance. And this goes into… through some stuff with McKinnon and Marty, who is sniggering at Phil's self-adopted power-trip… into Tom's great plans for Wales. He asks Phil to take on Wales. To reinforce that we get the vision of Tom and his long speech about what happened he heard Zappa, his attempts to change England's consciousness, about opening up a playground in Tavistock, in Colville Square, sorry, kids on Ackland Road, and all of this. The attempts to wake things up, break out of the patterns. That acid has been given to us by the Space People, and all this stuff. Which is all incredibly crushed for us in the end by Phil saying he doesn't want Wales. "I was there a few months ago and I hated it. It felt dead!" In the meantime, Meg is getting freaked. She has been sidelined from all this. She has a great journey Meg, really, but she feels stultified here. She goes off back up to Howarth and Phil sort of flows around, useless without her. I don't know if anyone has picked up on this, but it says here: Phil says, "Meg's fed up with me and she went back to Howarth a week ago." And Paul says, "It doesn't do one good to be addicted to blind admiration, what are you going to do about it?" And Paul says, "I'm going back to Howarth, to follow her." Then we have some great comedy sequences, Rimmi in the café and all of that.
Jeff: Rimmi's Breakfast, a welcome relief from all the heavy shit that has been floating around for some time. A tour de force moment for an actor to really turn it on and make an audience laugh with some powerful visual slapstick.
Oliver: And the encounter with McKinnon and Shelley… it is all kind of looking around… and he doesn't know where Tom is… when Tom leaves after the Wales speech, he disappears and Phil is convinced that he is up in Howarth sleeping with Meg again. He is feeling paranoid about the all thing, especially when McKinnon has given him a Claude Bragdon book about sexual abstinence. And when he gets up there he is still suspicious about it and he asks Meg if she would like for them not to fuck for the time being, and for her to read the Bragdon. She is tired of him having all these new ideas. He must be an incredibly frustrating character, because he is so restless. His ideas move on all the time. Back in Howarth, we have a long sequence with Arthur, Ray and the Flying Minis. Followed by Peter Dominic coming back into the picture again. He and Peter seeing the moving star in the garden. People just sort of coming through at this time. It is weird looking at it like this because the rhythms of the piece leap out at you. Eventually he gets the telepathic message in the Bronte graveyard to set up the centre for spiritual rebirth and announces this to Meg. She has been down to London, in the meantime, and apparently slept with McKinnon and taken acid and what have you. They decide they are going to leave Howarth and try to find a suitable place to set up the spiritual centre. But Michael Roner turns up. We have the scene with the vicar and Michael's more dark influence becomes apparent. He intends to follow them up to the new centre, but Phil won't let him. Ray turns up, completely transformed from his previous self, because a saucer has appeared to him again, when he was sitting on the porch with his girlfriend, and he now realises that he is one of them, that they are his friends. So he drives them off, he gives them a lift to wherever they are starting to go. And we are next transported to Scotland, on the way up to Freya. We encounter two strange characters called Johnny and Mary, the haystack dwellers, with their story about their incredible existence and the influence on them of Meyer Baba. Phil and Meg have received a letter from a Maude Kennedy telling them about a spiritual community based at Sandymouth…
Jeff: Which is really Findhorn and actually exists.
Oliver: So we are at Sandymouth, the sequence with Paul Rowntree and with Mitch as Agnes, Mrs Rowntree, of course.
Jeff: A stunningly memorable performance.
Oliver: Staggering. There are two things that Mitch does, and
this is one of them, where you have such a problem not laughing at him.
It becomes painful.
Jeff: He does turn in some remarkable performances.
Oliver: Fantastic. Mrs Rowntree. When he was doing Aldiss, I think it was, it was one of the main performances last year, and he did this whole thing with a dwarf banana. He had this tiny finger banana and he meticulously peeled it perfectly into four segments. And he just did this whole speech with this tiny banana. I think it was Ken who said that you have to understand that Mitch's acting isn't acting, it's sculpture. Living sculpture. Okay, so we have got to Sandymouth, Paul Rowntree, the big strawberries and all that. It's a sort of a walkabout, this scene. We did it outside when we did it in May.
Jeff: It comes at that time in the morning when it is good to get outside and have a change of environment.
Oliver: They sort of dance around each other, because Paul is very much trying to keep hold of the power, keep control of it, and we learn some incredible things about all that. Then we have the hippie, Glynn Dyson, and Rock, this is where we are introduced to Rock.
Jeff: These are characters based on people at Findhorn, eh?
Oliver: Yes, Sandymouth is Findhorn. We meet them and then we meet Hilta and Eveline, all of those people. We learn about the whole kind of power struggle that is going on there, because Paul… One of the first thing that Phil says is "Isn't there anybody who can do Paul's job, and are there any people who a free of his influence?" The only people that Rock says are free of his influence are Eveleine and Hilta. These are the only people who have not been sucked in by him. And of course, by all accounts… I have forgotten who said this, it wasn't Neil. That one of the reasons Neil was kicked out of Findhorn, in the autobiographical story of this, apart from just getting up people's noses, was the fact that Paul had his little empire, and you could not have two such people around at any one time. He wasn't sufficiently ego-less to just get on with his own thing and ignore him, as people like Rock had more or less done. So this is a story about conflict, really. Although there are good conversations, with Eveline and with Hilta…
Jeff: Who may well be well be Venusian.
Oliver: Indeed. And Roner is there at this point and he interferes as well. But then the thing that really does it is this great visionary speech that Phil gives, the channelling and the speaking in tongues.
Jeff: What, that set is up, does it?
Oliver: That's why he gets chucked out, it sets that up. On top of everything, he is this very strong character. If he is receiving words from God, or from whereever, when Paul is saying that only Agnes gets word from God, then you have got a power struggle on your hands. Straight after this speech, well he's just completely blitzed by it, is Phil, but Paul comes out and says, "I have got a note that Phil must leave right away." The minute after that speech. It is pretty obvious. As Eveline said, "The forces of darkness are sometimes very subtle and sometimes the are plainly grotesque." Paul is just interrupting the patterns, really, interrupting the flow. And that speech is when the set off for Loch Ness. That is the end of Play Five.
Jeff: Setting out on the new journey. Another break....?
The Warp in Outline and in Performance (Part Three)
Oliver: Play Six – Arrival at Loch Ness. Meeting Maggie, a young girl who will guide them to Freya. The interesting thing about this dialogue is that it was taken down verbatim off the video, so if it ever existed on the text, I don’t know.
Jeff: Taken off the original video?
Oliver: Yes. We rewrote it when… the whole Peter Dawes thing… we cut out the Peter Dawes sequence from when Phil and Rachel first meet. Ken wanted it reinstated, that scene there, just ‘cause the order wasn’t working. Yes, they arrive at this place. It’s an incredible story. A hundred acres. Nobody had squatted it because they thought it had ghosts of Crowley and all that kind of thing.
Jeff: Neil Oram did this stuff as a one-man show.
Oliver: Arriving at his house?
Jeff: Yes. Neil did a thing, now what did he call it? “From Cromwell to Convoy”. It consisted of like, talking about his past lives experiences, one of which was as a soldier in Cromwell’s army and it went right through to the Convoy, moving onto his place.
Oliver: Why Convoy?
Jeff: The Travellers, the axe-men that…
Oliver: The Cybernauts.
Jeff: No. Sinister like them. But in reality it was the Convoy that went and dumped on Neil. You know, the Convoy, they were the Travellers, some of those who had been beaten up by the police in the Battle of the Beanfield and all that.
Oliver: No, I don’t know about that. But you know that there were hippie travellers, people who lived in caravans and things, who used to go to Glastonbury and they ran the Stonehenge free festivals. Well, there was a pretty aggressive bunch of those, known as the Convoy and there were some quite heavy characters in all that. Now let me try to remember the story as Neil told it. The Convoy came up to Drumnadrochit and moved onto the land that Neil had, when they heard he had gone there. One of the things that Neil used to do was organise the Green Field site at Glastonbury, so he was well known around that circuit. And they realised he had moved to a place with lots of land. So they arrived one day. The whole fucking Convoy arrived, with all their trucks and what have you..
Oliver: And how long were they there for?
Jeff: Months and months, I think. The whole thing about coping with them and trying to get rid of them. In the end, he did do that… but they were scary. They used to go into the local supermarket and piss in the freezers and things. And like, everybody was blaming Neil for it.
Oliver: Of course, of course. How awful.
Jeff: It was everything negative. One day, he just despaired totally and said, “I wish these people would go away.” And he wished so hard, that there was a knock on his door that same night and it was them, the Convoy. The said, “We are fucking off, cunt.” And that was that. They all left.
Jeff: I think that’s how he tells it. But the arrival at the house was also one of the stories that he told in that.
Oliver: Right. So they move in. It is in a pretty derelict state. They start clearing up, tidying up. Jock, the local copper, comes in. Tells his story. We find out about Crowley living near there. There is a noise upstairs that frightens Sarah, their child, and Michael Roner comes in, wearing a cloak that he has discovered. Again, there is a mishmash of stories at the beginning this section, when they just arrive. Roner coming and then being chucked out, because he’s such a dark influence really. That’s the last time we see him, I think.
Jeff: Until he comes back as one of the Cybernauts.
Oliver: Oh, yes, of course. But we never did Play Nine, that’s only recently come in. So, next we have the Peter Dawes sequence, coming in as a cynic, then doing the channelling in the stone circle, then going to Sandymouth and getting the message from Antamaeus, all that stuff. Pretty self-contained. Then Rock and Paul coming up to deliver their verdict on the space. Paul is still trying to interfere and Rock telling us about his previous life as Dr Dee, the Elizabethan mystic, and Crowley being his assistant Edward Kelley. The Venusians are mentioned again, which Hilta has spoken about. He eventually gets this idea that the place is not only very clear, but is also very powerful. Phil has discovered that it’s an ancient Atlantean power centre, that it is on the main Harson lay-line. It is a very powerful place. Rock gives him advice on how to defend it. And the importance of LAUGHTER that, of course, Rock brings up a couple of times, which Phil never really takes to heart.
Jeff: I would imagine that was a Campbell addition, the importance of laughter. Because, without the humour in this piece it would have been dense beyond belief. Neil’s vision is one of chronicling what it was like in those times is a well principled one, but can you imagine this stuff done without the humour. It would be relentless. So the humour is essential if the message has to have any hope of being put across.
Oliver: Absolutely. Definitely. So there is all kinds of shit coming his way, cops trying to take the land off him, Jock explaining what’s going on between the local and the regional police, then Rachel arrives.
Jeff: And this triggers off a whole new episode in Phil’s incredible journey.
Oliver: We have Rachel and Meg meeting. And of course, this comes to blows pretty quickly. There is a scene with people all being a bit cautious with each other, but Phil inevitably goes to bed with Rachel and the next morning Meg comes in and throws water over them and Rachel runs off.
Jeff: Or in one reading of this, Meg throws the contents of the baby’s totty-pot over Phil and Rachel, that made a much more powerful statement.
Oliver: The way Daisy sometimes does it, yes. So when Rachel leaves, we have a reappraisal of what happens in Play Four, with Meg attempting to forgive Phil.
Jeff: Forgive him for his indiscretions, and with people desperately trying to be too nice to each other.
Oliver: I guess. Whilst Rachel is away, she has this bizarre episode with Eric Biggs, starting with a car crash, with the car ploughing into a rock, and having her hair all cut of, very strangely, by Biggs, and how he had raped her in a church. Biggs is another of these very fantastic characters who we never actually meet, but who just gets spoken about. Rachel returns to Freya and reveals all that has happened to her to Phil, and as a consequence of this they go down to meet her parents. This is the first time we meet Rachel’s mother. At this point she is just… I hadn’t noticed that before, about her parents ‘baronial’ residence… Her mother… For the time being she is just her mother, we find out more later on, how she fits into the Baron from the very first scene of the play and all that.
Jeff: Ah yes. Ken had the mother playing the Baron and the same actress who played Rachel playing the wife of the man in the Bavarian dream.
Oliver: There is a sequence in Nine, I think it is, which Daisy wanted cut when they first did it, where Rachel’s mother turns round to Phil and says, “You don’t understand… You don’t understand just how powerful I am… You Earthlings know nothing…”
Oliver: However, nothing more is said of the Baron until Play Eight, during that Scientology sequence, when he refers to the ‘fucking Baron, Rachel’s mother’
Jeff: So this is the echo of that in the ‘baronial residence’ idea.
Oliver: Sure. So we get in touch with this incredible, I don’t know… bourgeois family… More than bourgeois – possessive, reactionary. The situation that her mother is this great sucking void. A truly great character. And they stay for dinner, so we meet Mulford, as well, who is Rachel’s step-father.
Jeff: But he’s not the Baron?
Oliver: No, not at all. The mother is the Baron. I know it’s confusing, because we used to have Stephen playing the Baron and he also played Mulford. But we have to be very clear that it is the mother who is the Baron-force permeating Phil’s life. What happens in the last Scientology sequence is that’s what you realise. When he talks about the Civil War thing, “I’m beginning to understand what this war is about – hunt and revenge, hunt and revenge – because they killed me in the 15th century, I killed them in the Civil War..” And this whole thing going back and forth, back and forth, over lives, over time. An eternal struggle for power. Lovely scene when they are talking about the poetry – beautiful.
Jeff: Mulford is being very scathing about poetry. And Rachel describes Phil as one of the greatest visionary poets alive.
Oliver: Mulford asks, “Would you say that poets take themselves rather seriously?” And Phil replies, “Perhaps they take the question of death seriously.” Just this complete missing of any sort of common ground. These are a great couple of scenes, where you do get this all other world. Often, we are just too much within Phil’s world, for a long time. To get these introduced is great.
Jeff: And this posh world seems totally and utterly abnormal doesn’t it? It has become really the most bizarre and brainless world, so in comparison, Phil’s world has an air of normality about it. It shows what an influence this play has on you, because by this time you are totally into Phil’s world, so you can better see the absurdity of these other worlds.
Oliver: Well, perhaps I’m not the best one to ask about that.
Jeff: Sure, you are rather consumed. Let’s just talk about Phil and Rachel for a minute. I get the impression that like Rachel is the real one in Phil’s life. That if there was ever a real relationship in his life, then Rachel is the one.
Oliver: In the sense of it being more adult. Meg was kind of a mother figure to him, always. As she said, the mother he wanted. I don’t think he ever gets over that in the play. Rachel is the one he really loves more than anything. It is incredibly powerful in the last play, when she has just gone away from him, she has gone somewhere else… Yes, you are probably right, she probably is.
Oliver: So they head off back to Scotland. While he has been away, Michael Roner has been there and cut up his cloak. But it’s all quite changeable, because in the next scene Tom turns up and it’s all okay again. Tom comes up to the place. He tells this whole story about meeting Marty and John Michell, seeing his new cover for “View Over Atlantis” and all this kind of stuff.
Jeff: Remind me who Tom is based on.
Oliver: David Tomlinson. He’s around for most of the shows now, he’s sort of reappeared. He’s a quite a short, small built guy, usually wears a tweed coat. So Tom kind of comes up and spreads the light. Ken has gone on about how, although how Neil has put all the sort of dramatic moments of Freya, the thing that he wanted us to generate back in May, and that we did do, was how generally it was a lovely place to be. We know shit went down there, but it had a great feeling to it. But what the audience gets is all the difficult stuff…
Jeff: Because the difficult stuff is the drama.
Oliver: Yes, it’s the conflict rather than the harmony. So Tom turns up, but there is this undercurrent of Tom having also slept with Rachel as well as sleeping with Meg. And Phil takes this out on his daughter, to begin with, as she picks the lettuces and the radishes. Then we have this whole thing with Jake, the last sequence of this play, and it is arguable how much Phil’s anger at Jake is his way of channelling his anger at Tom, really. So Jake turns up… whose wife is Jamie Mackinson’s daughter… the guy who owned the property previously… is daughter is Janet, who is married to Jake. That is why they come up, with Jake saying it really belongs to them. And Phil shuts them down. They stay there for a while and at first it goes well, but Phil has to go down to Leeds, because Ann has turned up and has had to go into the nuthouse. In the meantime, Jake kicks everyone out, revealing what a fascist he is. Then Tom comes back. Then one of the great set-pieces, this has also to do with Rock, it is all about Crowley’s cloak and the burning of it along with its special clasp. Phil thinks it is all a nonsense, but says eventually that he will do this for Rock. When he does this Phil gets a message and establishes the House of Light. He expels Jake and Janet. They still try to get back, in fact Janet does come back on her own and tries to get off with Phil. This is a really fine scene, though often under-rehearsed, when Janet is there and Betty, Rachel’s mother, and Mulford turn up. And Phil starts spouting to them about his philosophy of the place. This latter point is very much where Phil is getting into guru status, a feeling of preaching to people and telling them what stuff is about, as he sees it. So Betty and Mulford have turned up unexpectedly in Freya, and it all gets a bit complex this, but it is terrific when it is done really well. Meg comes in, then Rachel and Jake follows with a rifle and Mulford saves the day by talking it off him. It is fantastic. Because so many different elements from the play come clashing together. It’s really good. And that is the end of Play Six.
Jeff: And on to Play Seven.
Oliver: The first scene of Seven is the only scene, well, when I did it anyway, in which Phil does not appear. There is another one now. Tom and Rachel are now living together and now… Phil had said to Rachel that she and Tom should be able to do whatever they want. Tom has this really weird pattern of thinking, that one usually does not get to discover until plays later, things he doesn’t say, he’s not a very good communicator, and there is something she tells him that makes him leave, about the impossibility of men and women harmonising. And he just makes up his mind to leave. This is central to the structure of this particular play, because there are three progressive conversations between Tom and Phil throughout this play, which sort of plot their development really. This time he leaves, the next one he doesn’t and the third one, I can’t remember, we’ll find out. Rachel decides that she is going to go away, so Tom and Rachel have both gone. And we also discover that Marty has been taken into an asylum. So Phil goes to try to get him released and we have the Snarkle scene. It is a long one, brilliantly written. There is a great sequence of scenes, here, because there is Snarkle, you know that well, don’t you, to write about? But he really is a sinister man, this man in charge of the asylum, who seems to have so little knowledge of what is going on there. Really, kind of now to care, everything always seems to just relate to him. I find him a very sinister character. Funny but very dark really. Mind you, so is McGlandie.
Jeff: More so with McGlandie.
Oliver: This was the brilliant thing which Elliott did when he played Marty with me. This was the one scene where he pulled no tricks. Given the bizarre stuff he used to do. In this, he came in and played it very straight.
Jeff: And that made you really sit up, didn’t it?
Oliver: Very powerful. The writing has to speak for itself, here. This is then followed by the philosophy of Freya, the conversation with Archie, Melina and Meg, which is another very well written scene. Full of ideas, full of all sorts of great things – leakage, ecstatic intelligence, it is very centred around Phil, but it is a great portrait of his character, with him being incredibly selfish. And that leads onto the discussion with Marty, which is another biggie, all the stuff about the cosmic Mafia, and the tentacles of who watches the watchers, all that stuff. The Labour Party is the cosmic parasite.
Jeff: This was the Harold Wilson era of Labour Party, but perhaps things don’t change. Certainly there is a lot of disillusionment about this current government.
Oliver: Sure. This is a great sequence of things. And you really get the feeling of a kind of substance, of a community of thought there. Of really thinking about things. And then Tom comes back and we have the philosophical discussion that goes into the weaving and the great saucer visitation. This was so phenomenal in May, that whole saucer sequence.
Jeff: And the Albany was the ideal place to do it in, wasn’t it? With it’s circular shape and the great lighting effects they conjured up.
Oliver: Absolutely. Classical philosophy, here in this next scene. One of the things that Daisy wants to do is to get all the books in The Warp and go through them, from Ulysses and T S Eliot in the first play through Bragdon and all the stuff later on.
Jeff: That sort of was done at the ICA, when the very first production was done. I don’t know about the books, but there were all these seminars and lectures, philosophical discussions in and around the piece. People would sort of come to it for a week. Come to all the seminars, hear John Michell speaking, stuff like that.
Oliver: Tom seems to channel through the aliens, someone speaking through him, giving him the message about the weaving, at this stage. Just to weave the carpet. As the vision grows and everyone else comes back, he goes into developing the dome and the huge carpet to go into the dome, the huge loom for the carpet.
Jeff: The weaving of patterns, the weaving of symbols and the weaving of ideas.
Oliver: But it all starts to go wrong. Jana turns up. They have the midsummer thing and Jana turns up. That screws it all up, because she takes Tom over and whatever, they do their thing. That takes him out of the process. It stops him being involved. When Rachel comes back, Tom seems to have just sunk into himself. Phil tries to talk him out of it, with the halvah dialogue, their second of their dialogues in this play, in this case Phil sort of talks him out of it. This is what I mean about Tom’s weird pattern of truth. He says that halvah is the Sufi symbolic word for truth, and I have failed in not being ready to receive the blessing, by eating the whole piece at the end. And he lives his life by this pattern of symbols that he doesn’t tell anyone else about. So nobody else knows what the hell is going on. He just introduces them.
Jeff: Phil says to him, no I wasn’t saying to you that it was all over, I was saying that it was the halvah. But even when that is explained to him he still won'’ have it because he says that he heard all over. Crazy!
Oliver: And he does it again in the scene at the end of Seven. Gives this all interpretation to the events that have been going on earlier, which is just verging on the mind-blowing. Bizarre interpretations. You see he brings them back, but not to much avail, really, because Jana is still preaching against him, trying to distract him. Then we go into… this is a lovely scene, too… with the monster watchers and the conch, followed by the tarot reading. This is another instance, from Neil’s point of view, of the forces of darkness are being waged against them. We learn later on that down at Sandymouth they are releasing dark light at Freya when they meditate. So the Tarot reading reveals that he is going to suffer betrayal. And this scene which follows directly on from that, because Tom and Jana have walked out of the scene at the beginning, is Tom’s big disillusion and he ends up really leaving. And then the next section starts off with the acid sequence, with Phil and Rachel taking the acid. Incredibly complex, this, to stage. Because you have got Phil and Rachel, you have got Archie and Melina gardening, you have got what is going on in the front garden all at the same time. There are basically two or three scenes going on at any given time. This is where… more and more… from late Play Seven and the last few plays, he develops stuff that is difficult to stage… there’s a lot of stuff in Nine that is very problematical to stage, into ten, which is basically a screenplay. Whole sections you can’t possibly act, you have just got to get rid of them all together. It would make a fantastic mini-series, this would. The acid sequence – there are all kinds of petty jealousies and stuff going on Meg is trying to convince Phil that he is in love with Rachel. But she goes off back down to London and Phil is left without her. Rachel is then trapped by her mother for the first of several times. They are only allowed to see Meg very briefly…
Jeff: That’s the Christmas scene…?
Oliver: The Christmas scene and Meg has travelled down with a present for Rachel. But she has been taken over by her mother. She has been taken away, partly because of the things that Phil has done, but she is obviously very much under the influence of her mother. And then we get this scene with him and Tom, with Tome explaining his point of view. Wooaahhh! “You were saying by your gesture about weeding that sex came before the carpet..” What is that about? Well, they sort out their shit really, towards the end and realise what fools they have been. It’s a good scene that, between the two of them. And that is the end of Seven.
Jeff: How are we doing? Are you alright? Do you want to go on…?
Oliver: Sure, and just chuck in whatever questions you want. Play Eight begins in Mick’s Café in Notting Hill Gate, with Phil and Liz. This is how Liz comes into the play of the thing. Rachel’s little sister. We have only seen her briefly before this, during a scene with Mulford and Betty. This is another of those great conversations, very powerful character Liz.
Jeff: Like Rachel and her mother. Chips off the old block. I like all the stuff about, “Where were you during the revolution?” Liz, of course, had been behind the barricades on the streets of Paris.
Oliver: She is fantastic, and Phil is very confused at this point, anyway. Her ideas have faltered but he doesn’t really know where he is at this point. I suppose it goes back to his time with the Goddess in Rhodesia, that he has come to the point of obsession again, at this point and he can’t really see beyond it.
Jeff: He is totally obsessed by Rachel.
Oliver: Totally. Then we have a scene which wasn’t in my script, but we need to reinstate it. It takes place at a poetry reading, in the middle of which Phil breaks down and says, “I can’t go on with this” Which again is on the video and Daisy wants to put back in. He tells people about revealing what is hidden and this student comes up to him and says, “I was going to push my girlfriend off this cliff last night, because I knew she was pregnant.” And the girlfriend, who is with him, says, “What? You didn’t tell me about that.” He says, “I thought I was pleased, but I felt fear that you were pregnant.” And Phil says, “Yeah, yeah, yeah. Exactly, we are all ruled by fear.” That’s when he goes off and grabs Rachel, that’s like his impetus to go off and do that. It’s good, it helps the structure there. However, Rachel has decided to get married to this guy Paul Crawford, but she tells him that she wasn’t, but was just trying to get him there. They drive off to the cliffs at Dover or somewhere and we have this great reconciliation scene. Then they drive back up to Freya and there meet Paul Crawford, the guy she is getting engaged to. And this is where… this Aidan… Play Eight is certainly the most complex structure, the most different characters overlaying back on each other and all relationships going… I think it is relatively easy to follow, isn’t it? Do you get confused?
Jeff: I think it is relatively easy to follow, but this is what I mean about it having to be layered in performance. If it is just played at one level of intensity, it really does become unrelenting. And then it does appear like self-indulgence on the part of everybody.
Oliver: And also, if you are moving things about like we are, then most of this takes place on the same set. So we have Paul, and Paul freaking out and losing it completely over Rachel. And Tom has come back up there as well. In response to Tom, Phil phones Meg and discovers that she has now been taken over by Scientology. She has decided now to become involved in Edinburgh in Scientology. So he goes to rescue her, with Tom. He’s really freaked out by the whole thing, because he is trying to drug him and brainwash him, that whole Ron Hubbard thing.
Jeff: Great stuff, isn’t it that. The scene with the receptionist and the cup of tea – “Loose or lumps?” – genius writing.
Oliver: Great sequence. Having got her back to Freya he then tries to sort out Tom as well. This is the last… Well no… With Play Nine taken out, this is the last scene that Tom appears in. I don’t remember quite how he appears in Nine, as we never did that one. But this is like the big showdown, really. About Tom committing to the project, denying the vision, and not transforming negative emotion as Phil sees it. Then we go back to the story with Meg, really. Meg being back up there because Rachel is pregnant, then Rachel’s pregnancy… it all follows on at one. Paul and Liz have come back, Paul being now with Liz. Rachel has the baby and mother comes up and tries to interfere again. Phil kicks her out and doesn’t want her interference. Then we get introduced to Dennis and Madge in the next scene, as well as Archie and Melina, both of whom we have encountered before, but who are now together. We have a sort of fireside discussion, Dennis being one of the people who isn’t at home there. It is funny how all these people do fit in with those categories that Tom goes on about in Play Seven, about they are interferers of there work you put your hand over your mouth, if they are bullshitters, but not actually dangerous, you put your hand over your eyes, and if they are friends you put your hand on your heart. They do kind of fall into those categories in one way or another. Yeah… the whole episode… well with Archie and Dennis… Archie gets zoned out because Phil does TR Zero with him all night and completely freaks him out and Melina takes over with him and then Dennis leaves because Madge won’t leave with him, he leaves on his own with their baby, Madge wants to be free of him, because he is a bit of a dark character, as we discover when he starts beating her up before he eventually leaves. This where Phil does the Thai Chi thing and freezes him, he can’t move, Dennis has no strength left in his body. Then Madge has her transformation. This is when the mother pops up again, Phil’s mother. His father is dead. It is another lovely scene. “I loved you as myself.” “Did you love yourself? Ask yourself that and you will see.” Paul is then building this dome. Which becomes a sort of symbol in the second half of this play. All the relationships get very complicated at this point. There is this guy called Barry, again who we never see. But really all this is just a run up introduction to Beak, Ralph Beak, the psycho, the rapist… Mac MacDonald was always in my mind for this…
Jeff: Hmmm. He would have been great in that part.
Oliver: There are three sort of sequential characters at the end of this play. You get Ralph, Bob God and Clive, that is really the progression of it. We get introduced to Jim Naxter. It does all fit together rather beautifully. Then you get the bees, the bees swarm Paul and his cock and all that. It’s funny looking at this Play Eight, really, because until you get up to Bob God and Clive, at the end, it’s a very kind of human play, isn’t it? There aren’t any kind of big supernatural…
Jeff: It’s very much about sorting out relationships between people.
Oliver: It is, sure. So Jim tells us about his travelling, and the Triumph Mayflower, and that great story there, his passport to Freya. They leave him to look after it, but then realise that it has all been fucked up… I don’t know if this is the bit… is this to do with the Convoys thing. When all the oat fields are dug up.. Or is that more to do with the Psychonauts, later.
Jeff: I don’t know, tell you the truth. I’m not sure.
Oliver: They’ve sort of let the place fall apart, with animal shit everywhere, and everything. So they get kicked out, only to be instantaneously replaced by Bob God. One of the times when Phil cannot accept someone else’s ideas and who challenges his authority too much. He kicks them out. Thinks he is being treated with contempt. He gets all these dark letters about Madge. That she has been smashed up in a car and sent to hospital, then he has to deal with Clive coming in… relatively safe, at first… drinks laudanum, though… kind of manic… comes up to read his poetry. But then we discover that he has escaped from the local nut house, or a nuthouse (wherever Marty was) and he shits on the floor and all that stuff. They agree to put him in the top hut, where they leave him, for safety really. And then a letter arrives from Ralph, saying that he should be put to death, with another letter from Jim Naxter saying the he hopes Phil dies very soon, and all of that. It all gets really heavy, gets on top of him. Decides he is maybe going to leave, then he decides he is going to smash everything up. So while Rachel takes some food up to Clive, he goes to smash up the dome and writes this great curse against Ralph, to be sent out to Ralph, which he and Rachel chant out together. And then he goes to the top hut, because Rachel says she could get not response, only to find that…
Jeff: Clive has hung himself.
Oliver: Phil is in need of a real shock and this is the shock that Clive gives him. It is right there, six people moving in Thai Chi fashion, at the very end of that play, as the Psychonauts are approaching the house. I’ve just remembered that the Psychonauts was their real name, wasn’t it. In the play they are the Cybernauts. Or is it Cybernarks?
Oliver: That’s it, Cybermarks. And so we come to Play Nine, which we did not do. I think the reason for not putting it on was something to do with the difficulty of staging the Cybermarks, but also… going back to what you were talking about in terms of Ken, still talking about the laughs, is that it is really dark, is Play Nine. It is a very difficult play to make funny. It really is relentless. Long, long bits on the intricacies of later Scientology. There aren’t many laughs in it.
Jeff: But it’s being reinstated?
Oliver: No. I’d like Neil to come down and do what he did here (at Brentwood that is, where Neil Oram came to tell the story of the Cybermarks/Psychonauts and what happens in Play Nine) I think that worked really well. But I’ve already had about fifteen new scenes in two and three. But even then Ken and Daisy are nor agreed about it anyway.
Jeff: What, whether it should be back in?
Oliver: Yeah. They have both drawn up their own versions. There is the Brentwood Nine and the other Nine, but they could just not come to any agreement really, as to how to approach it, so it is still a moot point really. I’d find that really hard now, in the development in my head, to slot another play in there. Because I just make that leap somehow, there is no… for me, there is no hole, in my head.
Jeff: But Nine is on the original video, isn’t it?
Oliver: Oh yes. The original video is sometimes hard to follow, where one play ends and another one begins.
Jeff: I know, yeah You can understand now how they get into all those difficulties of what folio which of Shakespeare’s definitive versions fall into.
Oliver: But I love those videos, because they are very true to the spirit of The Warp. Do you know what I mean? Like bits where you will have the speaking of the play, but a picture of traffic, or something like that. Then there will be a bit in film, or then a picture of an Hindu god. It’s great, it’s great. So then we have had all the beautiful nonsense of Nine and the last play…
Jeff: Play Ten.
Oliver: Play the Last, where Phil and Rachel have been reunited after being broken up with some really heavy stuff going on in Nine. She has been brought down by the Cybermarks not once, but twice in the previous play. But now they have been brought back together, and are seemingly happy. But I think, certainly from an audience’s point of view, that Rachel is going somewhere, getting odd, and odder by the minute in this play. They decide to go down to Glastonbury, because they have done the other three points of the compass. I think that’s the idea. So they go west. But then Rachel meets up with her mother, who is doing absolutely everything she can to get Rachel away from Phil. This is where the struggle really starts, with her. Rachel is getting more and more resilient, aggressive. From Phil’s point of view, the play is very much about keeping her under control.
Jeff: Keeping Rachel under control?
Oliver: Yes. He doesn’t really know what to do about it. Then we have the scene with the garageman and the roof-rack saga.
Jeff: Where Rachel really flips her lid and this shows her real bad side. The impatience, the lack of respect for other people…
Oliver: Yeah, but there is kind of a dichotomy, because as the play progresses, and you kind of find out… when you think about where she is in the lunatic asylum and where she is when she speaks in the Ed Gale scene, you think, well man if she is really that far out, maybe she has every right to be impatient with us.
Jeff: Who are just ordinary…
Oliver: Do you see what I mean. From a worldly point of view, you think, oh she is just being a pain in the arse, but…
Jeff: With all her worries, how can she be concerned for a man who does not understand Czechoslovakian instructions for assembling a roof-rack?
Oliver: There is always a double argument there, as to whether Rachel is either mad or is she in fact breaking through? Once you have gone through all these plays. And I don’t know. So this is when all these big screenplay-like sessions come in. I love this one. “They are both totally pissed having drunk after drinking a whole bottle of scotch. Rachel is still only talking French; Phil doesn’t say anything except gibberish. He is apparently a Polish soldier. She is screams to in ‘Why can’t you fuck instead of just talking?’ in French. Phil gets very worried, because he can’t find any way of getting Rachel back to being Rachel.” Then Buckminster Fuller.
Jeff: Wow, yeah. One of the really inspired speeches in the whole thing.
Oliver: Buckminster Fuller. Fantastic.
Jeff: This is the one I want to play sometime.
Oliver: Bucky, really? Fantastic. Do you know about his theatre in Bali?
Jeff: I don’t know whether it is HIS theatre, more that it is named after him. Do you know about any of his stuff?
Oliver: No, I know very little about him. The only time I have come across him, well a couple of times, he’s obviously a very eclectic man, because he comes up in a book I read about the history of performance art. Because he did stuff with Merce Cunningham and stuff.
Jeff: That’s right. A lot of people were influenced by him. For starters he invented the Geodesic dome…
Oliver: Yes, based on the structure of this particle that he discovered.
Jeff: But he wrote a fabulous tract called the Operating Manual for the Spaceship Earth, that is really worth getting hold of as a book of ideas, and thinking about what we are as a species.
Oliver: Is that still in print?
Jeff: I guess so, it was a pretty classic sort of tract. Probably get it in Compendium (a bookshop in Camden – ed.)
Oliver: So we have this great Buckminster Fuller speech, then we go back to Rachel’s mounting madness. The Hippie Fair, her thinking she is being fucked by A.C., Crowley. Phil eventually gets her back to Freya. She discovers that she is pregnant again and she wants to go back to see her mother again. Which isn’t necessarily a good idea. But they do go down there and exactly what he fears does happen. Her mother thinks she should have an abortion and she has been brought down by all her friends. However, she does have the abortion and this is when it all gets so bad for Phil and Rachel’s mother is becoming more and more possessive and he eventually decides he is going to go to India and join the Bhagwan Rajneesh, which he does. Everything seems to go well at first. He is given his Sanyassin name. But he becomes quickly disillusioned by the whole thing, which he finds quite fascistic. Starts arguing with people.
Oliver: Yes this is now quite a severely cut version of this scene with Clava, I think it was originally a lot longer than this. Phil just becomes more and more antagonistic to the whole scene. He confronts Rajneesh. He decides to leave, but then gets confronted by Ralph Beak, who is also there in his new guise. He is also receiving telepathic messages that trouble is going on at home. So he decides to go home and follow that. So after the India sequence, which is sort of halfway through the play, we discover that Rachel is indeed losing it more and more. She is at a sort of bourgeois village fete kind of fair, where she is raving away on the bandstand. She gets carried off. She is now with this fellow called Gypsy Clive, a horse-trader. Phil comes back to her, but she has sent Sam to be with her mother, and he is not at all happy about that. He wants her to sort it out, but she is getting pretty out of it. She is coming out with these… I suppose it’s not particularly astral at the moment… but she is saying things, like “I’m not Rachel. I’m Mary! Get out of it, find out who you are!” She seems in a very bad way. She then goes back and tries to kidnap her son and kill her mother. Phil decides to take the kids away on a holiday and Rachel throws all these vicious accusations at him. While he’s away, she goes into a police station and starts tearing down the posters and has to be sedated, taken off and sectioned. He hears about that and that Sam has been made a ward of court. He has to drive back up, but before he leaves Sam with Rachel’s mother, according to the court instruction, he goes to see Rachel in the mental asylum. This is one of the most moving scenes, I have to say, for me, doing it, this one and getting Marty from the asylum.
Jeff: The reminder that sanity and insanity are often indistinguishable.
Oliver: They are both very difficult. Because there must be such… I don’t know, because of the situation you are in there, really. Someone who is in there and you can’t contact them.
Jeff: Particularly with Rachel, because he is so madly in love with her, wasn’t he?
Oliver: Indeed yes. It is a very simple scene, but very potent.
Jeff: Do you know who Rachel is, in reality?
Oliver: No, I’m not sure. Mandy has met her, I think. It is a bit confusing, because Sam is actually a girl, in reality, I think.
Jeff: I don’t think it matters anyway, does it? Not to the play. We are in a created world that has been touched by a reality, but we should not see it as purely autobiographical. That is why I have never particularly bothered to find out about the correspondence between the characters of the play and the people in Neil’s life, because it can get in the way.
Oliver: I agree entirely. After the asylum, we have the last Scientology sequence, where Phil is audited by Meg. Which in our version was a condensation of Play Ten Scientology with Play Nine Scientology. It is the Play Nine one that refers back to all the stuff about the toolshed, and also the stuff about the Cromwellian soldier. So you have got all of that, the Scientology with Meg. It covers much of what he has accumulated, about his deep feelings and about his isolation from Meg. That’s what really gives it it’s weight in the context of the drama.
Jeff: And from now on, all the set-ups start paying-off, don’t they?
Oliver: They do, yes. You have the short scene with Liz. Signing herself over. That is followed by Jim Naxter and what’s happened about being paid off by her. Liz lodging an affidavit. Rachel’s mother is trying to ensure that they secure custody of the child, and that he doesn’t get to see him. He is equally determined that Sam’s trust in him does not get broken. But he has also come back from India to discover all these messages sent to him from Birmingham, all these sound bites, which he doesn’t understand, that they are in Rachel’s handwriting but they have been sent from Birmingham. So there are all these pay-offs. He’s got to go and check out on them, but before he does that he has to have a psychiatric examination. So we have this scene with Dr Cartwheel, another fabulous scene. It is a culmination, a summing up, of so much of what has gone before. To do with love, and fear, and the conspiracy against the spirit. What’s happened to Rachel, that she did not make the leap through fear. It sums up an incredible amount really, looking at it now. It kind of sums up all the logic of the play, so that the final scene with Ed Gale really pays-off the feeling, you know what I mean?
Jeff: Yeah. This pays-off the rational side of the play, the Ed Gale pays-off the mystical, the philosophical.
Oliver: Absolutely. Doug seemed to think this went very well in the last show. He had a great time doing it.
Jeff: He has sort of become Cartwheel, now. It is hard to see anyone else ever doing it. When he says, “Who do you think is behind this conspiracy?” and you say, “You are!”
Oliver: With the longest pause in theatrical history. We had great fun rehearsing that with Ken. I remember it very clearly. He came up with some great ideas. Then we come to the Ed Gale, with the landlord leading into it. Another of Mitch’s superlative performances.
Jeff: Another sculpture. Like something from a David Lynch filmscape.
Oliver: And then the Ed Gale scene just sort of liberates the whole thing. I don’t understand it for one minute. I wouldn’t claim to. It just gets weirder and weirder. It just goes on. He manages to speak in tongues. There are still lots of references back to previous things…
Jeff: And Roddy McDevitt is knockout at this. Those revolving eyes.
Oliver: It’s great, really great! I suppose one of the best things about it also, is that it is a beginning rather than an end. It is the start of everything else. It sets him free.
Jeff: You know, there is a bit in Heathcote Williams’ “AD/DC”, which Ken has actually played, where it is written in tongues, like it is made in symbols and weird squiggles and the actor has just got to interpret it.
Jeff: That is worth having a look at. There is like a page and a half of script that is just written in tongues. This sort of gets near to it.
Oliver: I’ll check that out.
Jeff: What’s the big thing about The Warp for you, what draws you to it?
Oliver: I think two things. It is a great play, a great piece. And it is a lot to do with working with Ken as well. I love working with him. It is a lot just to do with that. ‘Cos when I came to see Johnny’s show at Brentwood and I watched the last few scenes, I thought, “God, yes, it’s incredibly powerful” And that was just watching the end, I hadn’t watched the whole show. It is amazing, but I have a reservation about that, in that you cannot do it all the time. It just demands too much from you.
Jeff: Is it actually physically exhausting, to do it?
Oliver: Yeah, it is, but the thing is, your adrenaline rush is so strong, because you have been living off adrenaline for the whole stretch of it. I mean, I do eat, but the adrenaline is so powerful that you just go on. I don’t feel tired, I feel like I’m floating. You go beyond that feeling of exhaustion. It is exactly the same feeling I had at the end of running the Marathon. I didn’t feel physically tired. I was floating about two inches off the ground. Everything was just slightly out of synch.
Jeff: You ran a Marathon?
Oliver: In April, just about a year before I did The Warp.
Jeff: And you compare it to that?
Oliver: Absolutely. Because the process of preparation… the most important thing I learned, when I was doing the training, is the one thing about Marathon training is the psychological preparation, not the preparing of the body. Learning that when you are running a Marathon you are competing against yourself. You cannot be sprinting against other people. It is what is going on in the head that is important. When you are running, you have this brain, like when I was learning The Warp. There’s this little voice that keeps saying, “You don’t have to do this. You don’t have to do this. This make no sense. It’s illogical, you don’t have to do this.” And you just have to learn to cut that out, cut it out of the process. I have to say also, that one of the reasons I started in the first place was that it appealed to my vanity.
Jeff: The fact that others had tried it and failed, as well.?
Oliver: Not so much that. More that the thing is about doing leading roles is that you are kind of the ultimate supporting actor. Now not all leading actors that way. But I love being the person… not the person that gets all the glory… but I do love being the person on whom lots of other people rely. To feel needed. So it is more to do with that, which is, in itself, a sort of weakness, as it is to getting all the pats on the back. I realised this when I played Larry, because you don’t have half as much fun, you’re nothing more than the straight man.
Jeff: Has it been useful to you as a developmental process as an actor?
Oliver: I think so. It’s difficult to tell at the moment. Well, there we are. That’s The Warp.
Jeff: Thanks ever so much for this.
Oliver: No problem.
Jeff: It has been most useful. And thank you also for a brilliant
Philip Masters. Truly memorable theatre.
© 2000 Jeff Merrifield
Interview conducted – 24/3/1999 at the Hermitage in Brentwood, Essex.
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