I‘ve been involved in founding two theatre companies in my life. The first, Portable Theatre, ended for me in the Marylebone Magistrates Court some time, I believe, in 1973. I kept no diary in those days – I was young, and events moved so slowly – so I have no way of remembering. I do know I shook and sweated a great deal, since I’d only learned on the morning of my appearance that Tony Bicat and I would have to appear in court. The charge was nonpayment of actors’ National Insurance Stamps. Since we had relinquished the running of the company some time previously, we were both surprised to find ourselves still legally responsible for its present state – although, to be fair, I had recently seen its administrator at Schiphol Airport in Amsterdam drinking gin at seven thirty in the morning, and might have guessed that the books were not in too solid a shape. The magistrate fined us – was it £35? I misremember – and ordered us to pay all our debts. When the company later went bankrupt, we learned that your debt to the state is the one debt that can never be absolved.
Things have changed a great deal in theatre in the last fifteen years. In those easier days you needed less money to start a new company, and everyone accepted that theatres might naturally flower and die. The fringe had not been institutionalized to the point where companies fear to relinquish grants from the Arts Council long after their artistic life has been exhausted.
Max Stafford-Clark, David Aukin and I met among the ruins of Portable Theatre and decided that since we were all freelance members of the awkward squad, we were likely to need our own facility for putting on plays. All our experience had been with presentation of new work, usually of a modestly controversial kind, and we were all well aware of how producers’ expectations then rarely fitted either with our personalities or our tastes. I went away, to be honest, with little intention of using that facility – struck much more by the way Max, unknowable then as now, was going through a phase of insisting that there was too much snobbery in the world about what people ate and drank. To prove his point, he created Joint Stock in conversation while drinking large schooners of viscous sweet sherry.