THUD Theatre was formed in late 1977 by the incorporation of three ex-members of Soapbox Theatre, Steve Murray, Anstice Fisher and Paul Waller, into the THAP framework.
The aim being to provide Tower Hamlets with a resident theatre group. They devised various shows ranging from pre-school entertainment, such as Eggs, (‘Eggbert & Eggnog’s search for the biggest egg in the world’), to others such as Get Out Of It, for residents of elderly care homes.
The more political Creeping Sheep, a musical show, toured in street markets, pubs and outdoor festivals. THUD were to eventually regain their independence, while maintaining close ties with the project.
Controlled Attack developed a popular hard-hitting and challenging style, combining poetry, satire and commentary on current issues. Working with the Federation of Worker Writers and Community Publishers, they toured major northern cities and liaised with ‘acoustic punk’ Patrik Fitzgerald, whose first book of poetry was published by THAP.
The group grew out of THAP activity, becoming an entity in their own right, such was the organic (and often frenetic) nature of change at the project. The Island Arts Team, for instance, working on the Isle of Dogs, developed a strong programme of events of their own.
Alice Bigelow and Chris Lilly performing street theatre at Weavers Fields festival.
Controlled Attack’s Alan Gilbey also worked with other theatre groups in the borough. In 1986, A View of the River, was performed at a deserted warehouse on the Isle of Dogs. An epic production, devised by locals and guided by Alan, it used an ambitious mix of panto, pageant and performance to explore the area’s dockland past and its corporate future. It was later revived by the WOOF Theatre Company at the new Half Moon Theatre in Mile End as part of The East End Festival.
There followed a myriad of productions under a bewildering array of company titles, THAP’s involvement being the link. Under the ‘Dramatic Events’ banner, in conjunction with the Island Arts Centre, THAP worker Anne Edyvean oversaw, Soap Opera, made up of women from a mother and toddler group.
The Isle of Dogs residents had taken part in A View of the River, and demanded a show of their own, based around their personal lives. On Bombshell, Anne worked with clients of St Clements Drug Dependency Unit. Also, on other plays based around local campaigns.
Eamon Duggan street theatre performance.
During the 1980s, the project also promoted ‘alternative cabaret’ events in Bethnal Green. They featured performers such as John Hegley and Harry Enfield, who went on to achieve national fame.
But true to its original intentions, rather than merely providing a stand-up comedian’s stepping stone, the project also promoted local poets, writers and musicians at the shows.
Promotional leaflets by Alan Gilbey.
Although the current Brick Lane Bookshop does not run a theatre programme, ventures that had their roots in THAP and Eastside continue to flourish.
One example is Alan Gilbey’s East End Backpassages, ‘exploring the side streets of social history.’ These combined walks and ‘speed history’ events continue to use non-professional performers to tell the stories of East London.