Buzz Goodbody

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Mary Ann "Buzz" Goodbody (25 June 1946 – 12 April 1975)[1] was an English theatre director. Associated with the Royal Shakespeare Company for almost all of her short career, Goodbody is remembered for her sometimes politically charged experimental work, for establishing the RSC's first studio theatre in Stratford, The Other Place, and as the RSC's first female director.

Biography[edit]

Early life and education[edit]

Raised in St John's Wood and Hampstead, London, Goodbody gained her nickname as a toddler as a consequence of her very active and curious inclinations.[2] Her father was a barrister who spent a considerable amount of time in Africa and the Far East, with the result that Goodbody and her brother were largely brought up by their mother and nanny.[2]

Goodbody was educated at Roedean and the newly founded Sussex University.[3] A member of the Communist Party of Great Britain[1] from the age of 15, according to her brother, she was very much against applying for a place at Oxford or Cambridge.[4]

Acting in university student productions was frustrating for her. She once noted "All the best roles"—those she found interesting such as the lead in Henry V—"are written for blokes"; this was the catalyst that led her towards directing plays as a career.[5]

While at Sussex, where the main component of her degree was English Literature, she adapted and staged Dostoyevsky's Notes from the Underground as part of her Honours Thesis. This production won an award at the National Student Drama Festival, and eventually transferred to the West End.[6] Sunday Times columnist Hunter Davies, who interviewed Goodbody in 1966, "found her so fascinating, remarkable, outspoken, opinionated — someone who seemed to sum up the spirit of our new universities, if not the 1960s — that [he] decided to put her in a [never-completed] book".[7] In September 1967 she married Edward Buscome, a University of Sussex film student; the marriage ended in divorce.[8]

Royal Shakespeare Company[edit]

Goodbody first joined the Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC) in 1967 as director John Barton's personal assistant, after he had been impressed by a London performance of Notes from the Underground. Some tasks Barton initially gave her suggested that the appointment was not quite as positive as it seemed, but Goodbody reassured herself that it was at least a foot in the door at the RSC.[5] As well as undertaking research for Barton, she also served as a dramaturg for Terry Hands, and officially became an assistant director from 1969.

She became involved in Theatregoround, a project to develop smaller-scale productions of Shakespeare,[9] which included her productions in Stratford of King John, which was also seen at the Roundhouse in London, and the Elizabethan play Arden of Faversham, now attributed in part to Shakespeare, in 1970. According to Colin Chambers the production of the rarely performed King John was "much maligned but hugely entertaining".[3] Peter Brook thought the production had "vigour" and was "full of life, energetic, disrespectful".[10] She was the first female director to work for the RSC.[11]

Goodbody directed Trevor Griffiths' Occupations in 1971 at The Place, a venue off the Euston Road in London then being used by the RSC. Goodbody though was accused by some on the Left of "romantic idolisation" of the Italian Communist Antonio Gramsci (played by Ben Kingsley), a central character in the work.[12] A feminist involved in the Women's Movement, Goodbody co-founded the Women's Street Theatre Group in the same year.[13] In November 1971, her production of a documentary play, The Oz Trial, was first performed. It was derived by David Illingworth from the transcripts of the over-six-month-long trial for obscenity of the three editors of Oz magazine. In staging the play, it was claimed by commentators that the RSC had gone beyond what a publicly funded body should do. Goodbody, described by one pundit as "a young and militant lady director", firmly believed that the RSC should be involved in responding to current events.[14]

Her 1973 modern dress production of As You Like It was criticised at the time for seeming to be without any distinction between the court and the countryside. She observed of the play: "Hardly anyone seems to do any work: the shepherds and shepherdesses ... are not really country people. I see them as art college students — drop-outs who live in the country and have mummies and daddies in town with large incomes".[15] It was a feminist interpretation, with Eileen Atkins in the lead as Rosalind, and Richard Pasco as Jacques. It was a popular production with audiences.[16][17]

The Other Place[edit]

Goodbody played an instrumental role in establishing studio theatre The Other Place. In 1973 she worked with Trevor Nunn on his season of Shakespeare's Roman plays. In December she sent as memo to Nunn, then the RSC's artistic director, arguing for a "studio/second auditorium" aimed at the local population whom she thought were "notoriously hostile to us".[18] The proposal was accepted and in the following year she became an associate director, in charge of The Other Place.[19]

The Other Place was put forth as an alternative and more experimental venue than the larger Royal Shakespeare Theatre. There, Goodbody staged King Lear (1974) and Hamlet (1975). Of the latter, The Times theatre critic Irving Wardle wrote: "an astounding revelation of the most excavated play in the world, ranking with Peter Brook's A Midsummer Night's Dream as the key classical production of the decade".[20] Of the actors in her production, the reviewer Peter Thomson was of the opinion that, "they meant what they said" and Goodbody had "coaxed the play into their hands and they respected it".[21] Her production of King Lear ran in New York to a positive reviews.

Death and Legacy[edit]

Goodbody committed suicide in April 1975, shortly after her production of Hamlet had opened.[22] The National Student Drama Festival named a directorial award in her honour. Pam Gems created the character of "Fish" in Dusa, Fish, Stas and Vi in memory of Goodbody.[19] BBC theatre critic John Elsom noted that her suicide "robbed the theatre of one of its most promising directors."[23]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b Jennifer Uglow, et al. The Macmillan Dictionary of Women's Biography, London: Macmillan Papermac, 1999, p.232. As the press/opening night of Buzz Goodbody's production of Hamlet was 8 April 1975, the confusingly rendered date at the end of the entry in the source must apply to the day Buzz Goodbody died.
  2. ^ a b Alycia Smith Howard Studio Shakespeare: The Royal Shakespeare Company at The Other Place, Aldershot: Ashgate, 2006, p.11
  3. ^ a b Colin Chambers "Notes: Buzz Goodbody", Marxism Today, April 1980
  4. ^ Smith Howard, p.12
  5. ^ a b Smith Howard, p.13
  6. ^ Trowbridge, Simon (2008). Stratfordians: A Biographical Dictionary of the Royal Shakespeare Company. Oxford, England: Editions Albert Creed. 
  7. ^ Davies, Hunter (3 June 2014). "The class of 66". Sunday Times. 
  8. ^ Montgomery-Massingberd, Hugh (1976). Burke's Irish Family Records. London: Burke's Peerage. OCLC 2369649. 
  9. ^ Colin Chambers Inside the Royal Shakespeare Company: Creativity and the Institution, Abingdon: Routledge, 2004, p.67
  10. ^ Elizabeth Schafer Ms-Directing Shakespeare: Women Direct Shakespeare, New York: St Martin's Press, 2000, p.234 (originally published by The Women's Press, London in 1998)
  11. ^ Sheila Rowbotham A Century of Women, p.408. She was only the third woman to direct at the old Memorial Theatre in Stratford. Before the foundation of the RSC in 1960, the first had been Dorothy Green (1939) followed by Irene Hentschel (1946), see Chambers, p.67
  12. ^ Smith Howard, p.20
  13. ^ Smith Howard, p.17
  14. ^ Smith Howard, p.21
  15. ^ Interview for the Birmingham Post, 9 June 1973, quoted in Penny Gay As She Likes It: Shakespeare's Unruly Women, London: Routledge, 1994, p.65
  16. ^ Gay, p.66
  17. ^ Michael Billington Obituary: Richard Pasco, The Guardian, 20 October 2014
  18. ^ Andrew Dickson "Buzz Goodbody: the tin hut revolutionary", The Guardian, 11 June 2014
  19. ^ a b Aston, Elaine (2004). "Goodbody, Mary Ann [Buzz] (1946–1975)". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Oxford, England: Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/60678. 
  20. ^ Wardle, Irving (27 December 1979). "The seventies: playing out our old assets". The Times. p. 7. 
  21. ^ Peter Thomson "Towards a Poor Shakespeare: The Royal Shakespeare Company at Stratford in 1975" in Kenneth Muir (ed) Shakespeare Survey Volume 29, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1976, p.151-6, 153
  22. ^ Christopher McCullough Theatre and Europe, 1957–95, Exeter: Intellect Books, 1996, p.40
  23. ^ Elsom, John (1976). Post-war British Theatre (1979 ed.). London: Routledge. p. 175. ISBN 9780710001689. 

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