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 and for establishing the RSC's first studio theatre in Stratford, The Other Place

Early life[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] She 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. "All the best roles", those she found interesting such as Henry V, "are written for blokes", Goodbody once noted, and this was the catalyst leading her towards directing plays as a career.[5]

While at Sussex, 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] In September 1967 she married Edward Buscome, a University of Sussex film student; the marriage ended in divorce.[7]

Goodbody had 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 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.

At the RSC[edit]

She became involved in Theatregoround (TGR), a project to develop smaller-scale productions of Shakespeare,[8] which included her productions in Stratford of King John, which was seen too 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".[9]

She also 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 of "romantic idolisation" of the Italian Communist Antonio Gramsci (Ben Kingsley), a central character in the work, by some on the Left.[10] A feminist involved in the Women's Movement, Goodbody co-founded the Women's Street Theatre Group in the same year.[11] 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.[12]

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".[13] 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.[14][15]

The Other Place[edit]

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".[16] The proposal was accepted and ahe became an associate director, in charge of the Company's The Other Place studio theatre, in the following year.[17] She was the first ever female director to work for the RSC.[18]

In 1974, Goodbody played an instrumental role in establishing The Other Place. It was put forth as an alternative and more experimental venue than the larger Royal Shakespeare Theatre. At The Other Place, 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".[19] 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".[20] Her production of King Lear ran in New York to a positive reviews.

Goodbody committed suicide in April 1975, shortly after her production of Hamlet had opened.[21] 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.[17] BBC theatre critic John Elsom noted that her suicide "robbed the theatre of one of its most promising directors."[22]


  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. ^ Montgomery-Massingberd, Hugh (1976). Burke's Irish Family Records. London: Burke's Peerage. OCLC 2369649. 
  8. ^ Colin Chambers Inside the Royal Shakespeare Company: Creativity and the Institution, Abingdon: Routledge, 2004, p.67
  9. ^ 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)
  10. ^ Smith Howard, p.20
  11. ^ Smith Howard, p.17
  12. ^ Smith Howard, p.21
  13. ^ 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
  14. ^ Gay, p.66
  15. ^ Michael Billington Obituary: Richard Pasco], The Guardian, 20 October 2014
  16. ^ Andrew Dickson "Buzz Goodbody: the tin hut revolutionary", The Guardian, 11 June 2014
  17. ^ 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. 
  18. ^ Sheila Rowbotham A Century of Women, p.408. She was only the third woman to direct at the old Memorial Theatre in Stratford; the first had been Dorothy Green (1939) followed by Irene Hentschel (1946), see Chambers, p.67
  19. ^ Wardle, Irving (27 December 1979). "The seventies: playing out our old assets". The Times. p. 7. 
  20. ^ 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
  21. ^ Christopher McCullough Theatre and Europe, 1957–95, Exeter: Intellect Books, 1996, p.40
  22. ^ Elsom, John (1976). Post-war British Theatre (1979 ed.). London: Routledge. p. 175. ISBN 9780710001689. 

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