The London of the 1950s and 60s has always conjured up – for me anyway – images of smoky jazz clubs, neon-lit Soho clip joints and seedy cellar bars on rain slick cobbled side streets. Notting Hill and Bayswater were alive with the new cultures brought over by the first wave of Afro-Caribbean migrants from The Windrush. It was the world of Sam Selvon’s Lonely Londoners, Colin MacInnes’ City of Spades. Theatre clubs were part of that scene. Productions were edgier than the mainstream West End fare.
Theatre clubs grew up in post-war London to stage plays that had been banned or censored by the Lord Chamberlain’s Office under the Theatres Act 1843. This Act required all new plays to be licensed. Although operating as private members’ clubs to get around censorship rules theatre clubs weren’t immune to police raids if productions were deemed to bend the rules too far. This lent them an edgy, Avant Gard air.
New Lindsey Theatre Club
Alive with a counter cultural atmosphere and characters to match theatre clubs, like the New Lindsey or Bolton’s, weren’t far removed from the Victorian song and supper clubs and music halls. Perhaps that’s why Flanders and Swann chose The New Lindsey to premiere At the Drop of a Hat in 1956.
In the same year Peter Zadek staged the first English language production of controversial French dramatist Jean Genet’s The Maids there. The play explores themes of oppression and repression, imagination, masochism, sadomasochism and female sexuality.
It was in these clubs that the most cutting edge drama of the period was being produced. Jack McNaughton was at the forefront of this scene, performing in, directing and producing some of the most interesting plays of the period.
As early as April 1949 Jack was performing in Vivian Connell’s The Horn of the Moon, at Bolton’s Theatre Club. The cast included Jack, Denholm Elliot, John Wyse, Pamela Alan, Martin Boddy and Jessie Evans. The play was directed by Colin Chandler. Here are some images from the Mander and Mitcheson collection held in the library at The University of Bristol.
Jack’s favourite haunt was the New Lindsey in Notting Hill. Here he produced a number of plays including Gilbert Horobin’s Man with a Guitar, The Final Ace and The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, among others.
He made it a bit of a family affair. My brother Charlie was stage manager on Man with a Guitar.#
Theatre clubs began to disappear as monochrome post-war 1950s beat counter culture morphed into the Technicolor swinging London of the Absolute Beginners. The New Lindsey Theatre Club closed and was knocked down by developers at the end of the 1950s.