Mike Bradwell is a legendary figure, a mainstay of British counter-culture for over forty years. I first met him in 1975-76 when I was working at the ICA in London. I was assistant stage manager, and the ICA theatre regularly programmed the company he founded and directed for many years, Hull Truck Theatre Company. I also, in 1976, helped to programme an Ethnographic Film Festival at the ICA (this in the days when you didn’t need a degree in Arts Management to be let loose in a venue, and could multi-task), which featured new-kid-on-the-filmmakingblock Mike Leigh’s first feature Bleak Moments, in which Mike Bradwell played a transient South London guitarist, the lost and lonely Norman. To those of us ‘of a certain age’, the 70s punk ethos will always rule our souls. Mike Bradwell’s take on the ‘here’s three chords, now form a band’ line is thus: ‘Find a play. Squat a building. Steal a van. Now make a show.’ Well go on, what are you waiting for?
Of course the history of Hull Truck features heavily in Bradwell’s book, as does working with Mike Leigh (on stage, then on screen). But we are also treated to the onstage mass orgasms of The Living Theatre; eating fire with Bob Hoskins; and becoming an underwater escapologist (reluctantly – hence the book’s title) in the Ken Campbell Roadshow. Oh and then there was his proper job, running the Bush Theatre in West London for ten years – in which the theatrepunk renegade finds himself dealing with Health & Safety officers and funders galore. All this is interesting, but for this reviewer, the best bits are the tales from the early days: after all, who could resist a chapter entitled ‘Who Put the Cunt in Scunthorpe?’ especially when the opening line is ‘It was not easy to make revolutionary theatre in Scunthorpe in 1968.’
In his foreword, Mike Leigh recounts Bradwell’s attempt (before he’d even written the thing), to get a print-worthy quote for the book. ‘I wasn’t sure what would suit,’ says Leigh, ‘so he suggested “Buy this book. It is a work of genius. Laugh? I almost shat.” Well, I read it and it gave me diarrhoea.’ And what better endorsement could you ask for than that?