The Faceless Company

Feature in Issue 4-2/3 | Summer/Autumn 1992

Bretton Hall College in Yorkshire seem responsible for The Faceless Company’s birth in 1990, for it was from there, while in the second year of their degree courses, that Toby Hughes and Beverley Adams (Smith) – with Richard Stack, Mark Turner and oodles of support from the Bretton Hall facilities – hit the road. Against the odds, with the good and bad times that we all share at some stage, they are still around today.

Laudable artistic aims point to a style of theatre that bridges age, culture and language barriers. Stemming from the comic elements of Commedia Dell’Arte, the company promotes the physical Lazzi, specialising in non-verbal, masked, physical, outdoor performances. Commedia-like masks are used to create modern stereotypes in contemporary situations.

Work arrived soon after formation: a contract for the 1990 National Garden Festival in Gateshead. Four performances a day for ten days. It would have been marvellous, except they didn’t have a show at the time… Yet, performers being what they are, a show was conceived and performed at short notice. A 13x7ft backdrop was used in those early days. In windy weather the backdrop turned into a huge sail. Deciding that sails were better used on yachts and not in an open-air performance space, the idea was adapted. As was the style and the characters. Attempts were made at tumbling routines, but having no acrobatic training they consequently choreographed forward roll after forward roll! This idea was adapted, too. Yet, with Gateshead under their belts, more work followed: Pontefract Castle, Nostell Priory, Glastonbury, the list goes on. In Gateshead, Mark was handcuffed to a railway gate by some fun-seeking policemen. An hour-long improvisation followed! And the last show had an audience of elderly people who were sitting too far away to see the play. It was halfway during the set strike that they realised the show was over and they began to applaud! The year was beautifully concluded, though, by an article about the company on the front page of the Times Higher Education Supplement.

1991 saw a financial boost from the Prince’s Trust, more festivals around the country and more learning experiences. The performances seemed too loose and needed a real story to link all the characters. Music was needed. The masks would sometimes scare young children and the children would sometimes scare the actors by using them as human punch bags. Arts Festivals visited included Worcester, Rochdale, Middlesbrough and the World Student Games – filmed by Yorkshire Television. An invitation to run workshops in Southampton, giving Faceless an opportunity of feeding themselves during the cold winter months, led to the beginning of the Drama Workshops, now a regular part of the company’s timetable. The Mask or Street Theatre Workshops are aimed at BTec, A-Level and GCSE students.

1992 began with a substantial donation from the Prince’s Youth Business Trust – enough to buy a van. And the British Council supported a tour of Ireland. They are currently touring their latest production: Bags of Tales. It is about an amiable baglady and her ‘living’ bags that become animated and adopt grotesque characters which then tell a series of cartoon-like stories with help from the baglady and her cart. Richard and Mark’s decision to take a year out, allowed James Callachan and Kate Ballard to step into their shoes and masks. Now with a reputation for festivals, already this year Faceless have been seen in Holmfirth, Walton on Thames, the Victoria Embankment and Glastonbury again, where it was reputedly ‘too darn hot!’. In Halifax, the company were faced with an audience of eleven year-old Asian children with language difficulties. It turned out to be the best audience participation they have ever had!

The success of The Faceless Company, and Bags of Tales at the moment, is definitely through their distinctive performing style. Presenting, as they do, thought provoking entertainment using masks, mime, music and oversize props, they now have a strong idea and storyline that presents issues any audience can understand and react to. They have a company objective worded as follows: ‘To take our work to cultures which are alien to our own.’ So, if there are any aliens reading this who would like Toby, Bev and the gang to visit, you can contact them at this address: The Faceless Company, 45 Haigh Lane, Haigh, Near Barnsley, South Yorkshire S75 4DA.

This article in the magazine

Issue 4-2/3
p. 13