Prue Skene worked at the Roundhouse between 1973-75 as Deputy Administrator. She recalls her memories of bringing international artists to the space, the challenge of programming in the round and her favourite productions.
Can explain your connection to the Roundhouse?
I was Deputy Administrator to George Hoskins from 1973-75
How did you first come to work at the Roundhouse?
I answered an advertisement and was interviewed.
You helped with the programming at the time, what did that entail?
Being in contact with companies both in the UK and abroad who wanted to produce at the Roundhouse; seeking those in particular who could make proper use of the space, which was not always possible, and working on contracts with them.
What was the atmosphere like when you worked here at that time?
It was quite rough and ready, there wasn’t really a very strong sense of what the Roundhouse should be doing, where its place in the London theatre should be, it didn’t really have a raison d’etre and relied on people approaching us rather than us having the resources to go out and find or commission good work. The main income seemed to come from huge pop concerts which were held most Sundays. There was a loyal but strong-minded crew on whose word the place was mostly run, but this did change as we introduced a bit more order. The main problem lay in finding enough interesting work that used the round space – the productions that did were mainly the most successful. (any examples?)
There were some big theatre productions during the time you were there such as Berkoff’s The Trial and Agamemnon, Feast of Fools and The Taming of the Shrew – can you talk us through your memories of those productions?
I remember the Berkhoff works best as he was such a strong performer. The productions that I remember best were Jerome Savary’s Le Grand Magic Circus, which used the full space with a mixture of zany acts and came several times, and the Japanese Red Theatre of drummer Stomu Yamashta. There were also performances of Joint Stock and Prospect Theatre Company, the latter with a vivid production of Pericles. There was quite a lot of dance and I saw contemporary dance there for the first time with the wonderful Twyla Tharp company; this was followed by a visit by Ballet Rambert, whose Administrator I went on to become. Another Brazilian dance company, Los Capieros de Baha wanted to recreate folkloric dances with a live goat and candles but both these were banned by early Health and Safety regulations. One production I was solely responsible for bringing was Les Veuves with huge puppets from L’Espace Pierre Cardin in Paris – it wasn’t a great commercial success.
What is your most prominent Roundhouse memory?
The frustration of not having a more creative boss; attending Board meetings with Robert Maxwell and other prominent figures, mostly from the property world; being a little scared of the ripe-languaged crew until I learnt to get on with them; a sense of having to learn on the job. Although I’d worked as a secretary at the National Theatre and for the West End impresario John Gale, my previous management job had been touring with European drama and opera companies in Australia.