Friday 3 April 2009

Visit to the Jocelyn Herbert Archive

Photograph of Jocelyn Herbert by
Sandra Lousada © Sandra Lousada

I have now visited the Jocelyn Herbert Archive in London on two separate occasions and I hope to return again as I'm sure there's still a lot more material of interest to me and the Lindsay Anderson Collection. It's a wonderful Collection, housed at the University of the Arts, London. It was the express wish of Jocelyn Herbert that her Archive would have an active use as part of an art school. An exhibition was held in April 2008 to mark the move of the Archive to Wimbledon College of Art, the University of the Arts, London and there is currently an exhibition, until the 25th May, curated by David Harris. The exhibition (scroll down this blog to entry for Saturday April 18) showcases material from the Archive alongside interpretations and responses to the Archive by three current students at the University of the Arts. I wish I could get down to see it as it's so nice to know that the material is providing inspiration for new artists.

Three-dimensional stage model by Jocelyn Herbert for 'The Changing Room',
© Jocelyn Herbert Archive, University of the Arts, London

The Jocelyn Herbert Archive is a hugely important theatre design collection. The Archive includes her drawings for set and costume designs (between 4000 to 5000!); notebooks; sketchbooks; diaries; three-dimensional stage models (like the image included above); colour swatches for costumes; budgets and invoices; production photos; some of the masks and puppet figures from productions (like the image of the mask for the Daughters of Ocean for Tony Harrison's 1998 film Prometheus, included below); correspondence with directors and writers such as Lindsay Anderson (of course!), Tony Richardson and John Osborne; and paperwork relating to the Royal Court Theatre and the design of the National Theatre on London's South Bank.

Drawing by Jocelyn Herbert, mask for the Daughters of Ocean in Prometheus, © Jocelyn Herbert Archive, University of the Arts, London

Jocelyn Herbert was a stage designer and my interest in her is based on the huge amount of work she did with Lindsay Anderson. She designed the sets for a huge number of Lindsay Anderson's stage productions, including: Sergeant Musgrave's Dance (1959, The Royal Court); Inadmissible Evidence (Nie Do Obrony) (October 1966, at the Contemporary Theatre, Warsaw); Home (1970, The Royal Court); The Changing Room (1971, The Royal Court) and Stages (1992, The Cottesloe Theatre). In addition to this she was also the production designer for If.... (1968); O Lucky Man! (1973); and The Whales of August (1987). They did have their arguments though and he could be quite critical of her in letters to others, but he was critical of everyone and had very high standards which, he was happy to admit, Jocelyn met. For example when he went to Warsaw to direct a production of John Osborne's Inadmissible Evidence he had terrible problems with the stage workers there and Jocelyn Herbert flew over to help him. I found two letters in the Jocelyn Herbert Archive - in the first one he talks at length about the problems he's having with the production, in the second he is thanking her for flying out to help her. After talking to Cathy Courtney about this it has become apparent that this event was key to his admiration for Jocelyn Herbert's talent and professionalism as it was in such contrast to what he was dealing with in the theatre in Warsaw. This contact with Cathy Courtney, who knew both Jocelyn Herbert and Lindsay Anderson, has been invaluable in getting the most out of the Archive and illustrates that Archives are about the people who look after them as well as the people who are in them! It was also very helpful to see some earlier letters that he wrote to Jocelyn Herbert - as it wasn't until the 1970's and the arrival of Kathy Burke as his secretary, that carbon copies were kept of all outgoing letters (thanks Kathy!).
So far I've only catalogued a few letters from Jocelyn Herbert to Lindsay Anderson and vice versa as I have still to get to a whole section of files which were organised by name. This section of named files includes: Jocelyn Herbert; John Ford, Milos Forman; Bill Douglas, Richard Harris; Rachel Roberts; and David Storey, to name but a few! The image I've included below is a drawing, by Jocelyn Herbert, from the Lindsay Anderson Collection, sent to him after they had made The Whales of August. I'm hoping there might be more drawings in the file I've still to catalogue!

Drawing of Lillian Gish and Bette Davis on set of The Whales of August
by Jocelyn Herbert © Lindsay Anderson Archive, University of Stirling

1 comment:

  1. I was very lucky in arriving to the London theatre scene at the start of the 1970's, working with Bill Gaskil, Lindsey Anderson, Sam Becket, Edward Bond and David Hare, along with many others and many directors and actors. Almost all at that time had some connection to Jocelyn Herbert, and all knew of her presence, it seemed to radiate from the Royal Court Theatre, Sloane Square, most of us met at the small pub to the side of the theatre. It was common to be talking to the likes of Sam Becket, Lindsey Anderson or Bob Peck, Bob Hoskins and a host of designers like Hayden Griffen. All indeed owed a debt to Jocelyn.
    Jocelyn still used her vintage car in London, and her charming flat was always full of plants. She created sets that gave authenticity to a play, her manner was always for detail and a desire to transform the stage into reality for the few hours that a audience sat and absorbed the words of the very much cherished writer. Jocelyn was always very studious when talking work, on the details of painting or on props, she had knowledge and practice so was able to always command respect, yet could easily turn to laughter and was very enjoyable company.
    Her gravel voice and short hair style had led to her being aload into to an outback bar. Whilst working on the set for the film of Ned Kelly, along with her young assistant, Andrew Saunders, they travelled the outback for research. Finding the details like the newspapers that had been used to wallpaper the inside of the shanty houses, and on one excursion, Jocelyn and Andrew came upon a bar and wished to enter, Andrew with his long hair was refused entry, while Jocelyn, slim, flat chested, deep voice and short hair, was allowed to enter into the all male drinking establishment, the local lads thought she was a man, and Andrew was female !!! Jocelyn would hoot with laughter telling such stories.
    It is sad so many folk from that time during the 1970's, have passed on, they were all dedicated to the art of theatre and the almost worship of the playwright.
    Stuart Simkins