We were fortunate enough to have an audience with the mighty Bill Gaskill last week. I'm informed that age has mellowed what was once a venomously stinging tongue so alas not too much looking back in anger (boom boom - I'm here all week etc. etc.) although there was a rather scathing reference to new Royal Court Artistic Director Dominic Cooke's shift towards an investigation of the 'privaledge and power' of those you were once more likely to see in the audience than on the stage.
Fascinatingly, what he did tell us a little about was the muscle and sinew of what went on at the Court in those rose tinted revolutionary days of yore. Apparently Arden, Wesker, Bond, Kool and the gang would meet weekly under George Devine's enigmatic direction (a man who Gaskill still talks about with the enamoured twinkle in his eye of a true acolyte), where they would be up on their feet, exploring all manner of theatrical styles and theories. More of a drama-school short course than a writer's group, one week Devine would have them trying out Stanislavskian theory or Brechtian techniques (or, as Gaskill had it, 'what we thought were Brechtian techniques'), and the next they would be improvising with masks. The fundamental point being that although ostensibly a group of young writers, in Devine's workshops they were always all about practise - about getting up and actually doing something.
For me this method goes a way to explaining the kind of exciting theatre the Court at its peak inspired. Devine gave these young writers a forum in which they could explore form as much as content and performance as much as writing. And perhaps this is the problem with the locust plague of young writer's groups that seem to be multiplying ad infinitum across the country - that although they purport to be creating writers for theatre, their focus is too much on the writing and not enough on the theatre, leading to a drama that all too often is rather lacking in invention.
After all, apparently the biggest keener of them all at these weekly meetings was a wide-eyed unknown called Edward Bond, who just happened to go on to write a series of the most challenging, exciting plays of the 1960s.
And on that subject, I must be honest and say that there was something truly reassuring in knowing that one of the biggest and most well respected names in theatre was once-upon-a-time one of us desperately earnest, desperately annoying types who never-miss-a-class.
In other news, Rory Bremner still isn't funny.