Meall, Billy (7 of 8) An Oral History of Theatre Design
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Interviewee's home, Liverpool
Meall, Billy 1937- (speaker, male)
Wright, Elizabeth (speaker, female)
Part 7: Trip to Russia inspired by seeing somebody win a trip on a television programme; booking the trip; mention of books by Dr Oliver Neville on Chekhov; letter via him from British Cultural Attache allowing BM to go backstage in theatres. Being asked to write about the trip by John Toogood, editor of the ABTT [Association of British Theatre Technicians] magazine; mention that while BM and his family were in Russia, the Bolshoi were in America and the theatre was undergoing building work; seeing a ballet and a musical. Feelings about Russia; seeing Rembrandt paintings; Impressionist art. Escaping from chaperones; story about visiting Lenin’s tomb with an American musician appearing with Billy Joel. [0:05:44] Size of Russia; flight to Leningrad. Further comments about not being able to go backstage at theatres. [0:06:59] Working for English speaking theatre company in Hamburg; holiday in Berlin a few weeks before the wall came down. Mention of working on an Alan Ayckbourn play in Germany; German standard of living; staying with theatre secretary, Peter Burns [PB]; his interest in food. Sharing fortieth birthday on allotment in Hamburg with PB; his magazine about English culture. Breakfasts in Germany; smoked herring; fish markets. [0:12:00] Finding an assistant in Germany; assistant called Butch, a Geordie; learning about conceptual art from him; building set. [0:14:45] Looking after wife during her illness during the closure of the Liverpool Playhouse [LP]; campaign to keep the LP workshops; Joe Parker’s work for the campaign; reasons for wanting to keep the workshops; managing to conserve them; plan by Neptune Developments [ND] to turn the workshops into a shopping centre. [0:17:01] Story about being ejected from a council meeting. [0:17:45] Not wanting to talk about death of wife, Les, from cancer; her paintings; friends. Talented daughter and grandchildren. [0:18:51] Last Director of the LP, Richard Williams [RW], who made BM Resident Designer just before it closed; invitation from him to work at Legoland in Windsor. Painting pantomimes for different companies during the summer using the LP paint frame; mention that it is the only paint frame in the North West; different pantomimes BM has been painting; altar pieces painted for a church. [0:20:49] Les’s wish that BM should move house before she died; walking dog Harry nearby. Story about finding house; moving in weeks before Les died; creating room with a view over the garden for her. Learning to do things that Les had done, including writing cheques; new clothes bought by Les for BM in Russia; her choice of clothes; BM’s feelings about clothes; aunt who still sends BM underwear; wearing several similar shirts; work clothes. [0:27:00] Costume Supervisor on BMT, Marie [Marie Jones]; her positive comments about working on the show; giving lighting notes on behalf of the director, Bob [Bob Eaton]; achieving different effects. Importance of lighting in design; design for ‘Cider With Rosie’ at the LP with different gauzes and lighting; trying this in the model box; sun and moon lighting effects; building up colour onstage like a watercolour; missing out on the chance to meet Laurie Lee. [0:32:37] Other designs in which lighting was important including ‘Lucky Strike’ at the Everyman Theatre; premise of this play; dramatic lighting; description of the set in the script; mention that Pete Postlethwaite was in the show; burning incense in the theatre. Seeing a version of the play at the Institute of Contemporary Arts; elements of the design which were like BM’s version. Mention that the play was originally staged off Broadway. Feelings about having aspects of designs copied; approach to following stage directions. [0:38:26] Reading scripts several times; imaging the design immediately. First meeting with the director; mention of CB moving furniture in BM’s living room. Relationship with Costume Supervisor; approach to designing costume for BMT; style of costume drawing; drawing poses; first play designed by BM, ‘The Knack’ by Ann Jellicoe; shopping for costumes with Supervisor, Cathy Alger, who bought BM clothes from Army and Navy Stores so that he looked like a designer; her skill with actors; insecurities of actors. [0:45:17] Costume fittings; having costumes made with original 1920s slipper satin from Borovicks; Peggy, the Costume Mistress at RADA who would not allow costumes to be loaned. Different media used for costume drawings. [0:49:13] Working on shows at Legoland for two summers; mention of working with BBC scene painters who had recently been made redundant. Well-equipped theatre at Eton College; using technology in productions; projection; formula for side projection from an acute angle; projection and video cameras for ‘War with the Newts’.
Life story interview with Billy Meall (????-), theatre designer.