It’s been a curious journey, rediscovering the production of Marat Sade that we performed as students in Cambridge in 1968. Since I put up the original blog post with photos, in June, I’ve had conversations both fascinating and slightly disturbing with others who were there at the time.
Did I remember, asked Isabel, the beautiful blonde standing above the crowd of lunatics, that we were dressed in real shrouds? No, I did not.
Did I also know that it was Julian Fellowes, of Downton Abbey fame, who played the asylum’s director? Hah! I was vaguely aware that we were at Cambridge at the same time, and hadn’t been able to remember which one he was.
And ‘she died young’, I was told by Margaret, another friend, pointing at the photo of the Dutch girl who had once described me as ‘very, very untidy’. As Else was some kind of anarchist, it seemed to me ridiculous then that she should notice or care about such things. Now I feel sad that she left us a long time ago.
In another photo, that features my own non-starring role, I can also see the hand of my future husband (bottom right), placed on the shoulder of the guy next to him. Note the black marks on its knuckles. This was the result of us joining in a student protest in March 1968, against Denis Healey was visiting Cambridge, and whose foreign policy displeased us. According to reports, nearly 1000 students turned out. ‘As he attempted to leave, they surrounded his car and lay down in front of it. As students threw themselves in front of Healey’s car, the police tossed them into the gutter, injuring many.’ (British Student Activism in the Long Sixties - Caroline Hoefferle) Chris wasn’t in the car rocking posse, but was charging down Trumpington Street with the student mob when he tripped, or was knocked down, and had his hand stamped on by a policeman. The marks didn’t go for years. I came away unscathed; I was always a lukewarm protestor, and backed off when there was trouble brewing.
Acting lunatics and joining in tumultuous protests seemed entirely separate activities at the time. Now I am not so sure. Both had an element of wild release, and a bitterness towards the establishment. In Marat Sade, M. Coulmier, ‘the bourgeois director of the hospital’ as played by Julian Fellowes, supervises the performance, accompanied by his wife and daughter. ‘He believes the play he has organised to be an endorsement of his patriotic views. His patients, however, have other ideas, and they make a habit of speaking lines he had attempted to suppress...’ A far cry from Downton, Baron Fellowes, but perhaps there is some strange connecting thread, relating to the aristocracy?
To crown this rather haunting experience of revisiting the time, Isabel sent me extracts from letters she had written to her mother at the time. I’ll paste them here, with her kind permission; they speak for themselves.
On 9 February 1968, she wrote:
“Sunday morning dawned bright and clear and I ventured forth to audition for the part of a mad woman in Marat Sade. I went to a rehearsal on Wednesday and we had to do the most amazing things. Still it was huge fun and like the man said – “What’s the point of a revolution without general copulation?”
On 14 March her mood was darker, but triumphant:
“The production of the Marat Sade has been going like a bomb. However, it’s terribly scaring and I spent the whole of Tuesday night having the most vile nightmares. I’m very proud of the fact that a large blow-up of a mad-me is adorning the window of Bowes & Bowes – FAME at last.”
The reference to the bomb is eerily prophetic, since the person acting the herald, was later imprisoned for blowing up the Post Office Tower in London.
I should add that most of us have turned out to be very nice people. Thank you, Isabel, Jill, Dominique, Sue, Chris, Bruce, Jane, Margaret, Tim, Jo, Pippa and all the others whose names I can’t quite remember, but who were great companions.
If you were around at the time, would you like to comment or add your memories?