Martin Morley

A Life in Theatre & Television Design

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Web site created by Martin Morley using Serif WebPlus X8 Updated:  September 2018


Where possible I have given photo credits. For those I have over looked I hope I have not given offence. Most of the rehearsal photos are my own taken with a simple point and shoot camera.

Liverpool Playhouse  some reviews 1969 - 1973


Breaking the Silence

By W.J. Weatherby

From John Wardle Times 17 10 1969

The hanging of a Negro by a gang of hooded Ku Klux Klan figures gives a start to W. J. Weatherby’s ‘Breaking the Silence’ given its premiere on Tuesday at Liverpool. Such an opening conditions an audience to expect that the play will mainly be about the colour problem in spite of its author’s declaration in a programme note that it is essentially a love story.

He wrote it first as a book after is return to England from a spell of reporting the civil rights issue for The Guardian. In New Orleans he met and fell in love with a young Nergress. Savagely beaten up be white hooligans who happened to observe their association, he eventually took her to New York, hoping that its less lethally hostile attitude towards desegregation would make their relationship easier. But the result was estrangement. In New York Christine fell under Black Muslim influence and cut adrift from him. In spite of all his efforts he lost touch with her and in the end learned that she had died of leukaemia.

Knowledge of an original can sometimes be a handicap towards appreciating its stage adaptation. It may be that is Liverpool Playhouse commissioned dramatization of his book was the second chance Mr Weatherby wanted in order to get rid of the excessive rationalization which he felt to be a defect of his autobiographical narrative, but personally I find the narrative, with all its rationalizing far moving than the play. In Antony Tuckey’s efficient direction of it the wheels work to obviously as wheels. One is all along aware of the presentation as clever presentation, too clever by half to let one forget it and be held captive by the story itself. It is swift and austerely economical to the extent of often dispensing with properties and relying on mime. The series of telephone conversations between Christine and Bill, the young reporter, occur while both are in view, so here again one is too conscious of the device.

There is a claustrophobically prison-like effect about Martin Morley’s permanent setting, which is perhaps psychologically right. The acting is more intense than detailed or subtle. Alfred Bell as Bill, has a touch of the “ineffectual angel”, tragically puny in the void. Sheila Scott Wilkinson, as Christine, has remote kind of charm. In between long spells of standing about impressively on the edge of the action, Kenneth Gardiner, a Negro actor, has much to say as Mr. X the Black Muslim. He says it urgently, but with some alterations between fortissimo and pianissimo that but a strain upon the ear.


The Snow Queen:  review in the Liverpool Daily Post Dec 1969

Show is a success THE HEROINE had an Alice in Wonderland charm and the hero was booed to the echo with no prompting; in other words, yesterday’s first show of The Snow Queen, the Playhouse children’s matinees show was an unqualified success. This really is the sort of show that is going to enchant children and adults alike. Certainly the three hundred children present at the opening were participating for all they were worth, and keeping a jump ahead of the plot most of the time writes Doreen Tanner. Antony Tuckey has adapted the rather sad little Hans Anderson tale of Kay, the boy with ice in his heart, and made of it a straightforward adventure story. The charm of the original remains and is greatly helped by some marvellous costumes: the villagers look like Noah’s Ark dolls: the monsters, robbers and the Snow Queen are all imaginatively presented, while there is a set of human chessmen who are quite beautifully devised. There’s a steam train and an ingenious set by Martin Morley. Liz Gebhart plays Gerda, the little girl who sets out to look for Kay (Malcolm Macintosh) after the Snow Queen has taken him prisoner. She does so with an uncomplicated charm and freshness which are exactly right, apparently looking at her stage adventures through the eyes of a child.

Doreen Tanner


Black Spot on the Mersey

By Philip Radcliffe  1970

STARVING immigrants, bringing with them poverty, disease and an authoritarian religion, are arriving in Liverpool in numbers greater than the city’s own population. Racial and religious intolerance and resentment bred of fear for survival are rife. It is 1840. The immigrants are Irish refugees from the potato famine, their religion of course Roman Catholicism. The of “the Irish rabble, bleeding Catholics” was cataclysmic and its effect on Liverpool everlasting. Ray Dunbobbin’s documentary at the Liverpool Playhouse, Black Spot on the Mersey, attempts to sketch that harrowing city, with it’s rat infested hovels, 23,000 street urchins, unburied corpses, over crowded prisons, and particularly the work of a twenty seven year old Catholic priest, Father Nugent, selfless but not self-righteous, who was the hero produced by the moment. He attempts too much.

The facts are enough to make you sweat. The play never does. Even Father Nugent, as acted by Del Henney, has no fire in his belly. What does come through his humour, best seen in his relationship with the running-wild waifs (notably Robert Rude), his humanity, his unstinting effort, his lack of dogma. With the help of Martin Morley’s grimly cavernous set one begins to visualise the black spot of Liverpool but the experience is essentially prosaic.

The directors, Antony Tuckey and Barry Kyle, use songs, slides, silhouette mime and freeze techniques in an attempt to cover up for the physical impossibility of presenting a crowded landscape like this. Nevertheless it is a story worth telling and there is no doubting the fervour and sincerity of Mr Dunbobbin and the Playhouse team.   


The Crucible

Daily Post

THE PLAYHOUSE Company’s first play of their new season, Arthur Miller’s “The Crucible” certainly gives promise of fine things to come.

This play is an excellent piece of theatre but it requires equally fine acting if, in this sophisticated age, its story of Puritan supersttition, bigotory and witchcraft is to be credible. That Antony Tuckey’s production acheives this remarkably well is not only to his credit but also to the credit of his players, particularly those filling the major roles, and it is given added realism by Martin Morley’s settings.

There are fine contrasting portrayals of the variuos characters which complement each other. The quiet, almost dignified restraint of Gabrielle Hamilton’s Rebecca Nurse and Jenny Austen’s Elizabeth Proctor, for instance, give emphasis to the playingof Abigail Williams and Mary Warren, with their moments of hysteria, by Vivienne Dixon and Carolyn Evans respectively.

There is, too, the contrasting gentleness of Brian Young and the thundering playing of Neil Cunningham as the two ministers John Hale and Samuel Parris, and the cold bloodied implacability which Ted Richards gives to his Govenor Danforth and the feeling of deep sincerity which Paul Shelly infuses into John Proctor.

In the minor roles, too there are excellent studies, particularly from Arthur Whybrow (Giles Corey), John Webb (Thomas Putman) and Roger H. Lyons (Francis Nurse), which go to make this one of the most convincing productions seen here for a long time.

Last performance: October 10 1970


The National Health’ Review from The Stage 1972


DESPITE the somewhat farcical aspect illustrated left, Andrew Dallmeyer’s production of Peter Nichols’ “The National Health “ at the Playhouse is almost too realistic for comfort. Certainly so for anyone who has actually experienced hospital treatment. Martin Morley’s set of a typical male ward in an old fashioned hospital is perfect in every detail, and the character studies of staff and patients are meticulously observed by the players. The various types of patients are quickly established by their desultory conversation as the overworked nurses rush around, but it is not until the appearance of Ian Talbot as the male orderly, Barnet, cheekily sending up the whole system with lively comments that the play comes effectively to life.Mr Talbot gives a delightful performance, full of humour, and is at his best when as a documentary type commentator he describes the romantic interludes expertly mimed by Valerie Murray and Alan Moore. Archie Duncan introduces a hint of TV type medicinal practice as the Scottish surgeon, and of the patients, good work is contributed by Norman Henry, John Webb, David Sumner and Frederick Bennett. Or. the staff side . Mary Laine makes a majestic matron with Penelope Beaumont as the harassed house doctor, and Eileen Mayers, Elayne Sharling and Gladys Taylor as the busy little nurses.

Last performance November 18th 1972.


The Days of the Commune

Liverpool Echo 23 11 1972

The red flag flutters bravely over the Playhouse for the next three weeks. The play is ‘Days of the Commune’, the author is Bertholt Brecht. In the circumstances, you might expect this story of the brief, abortive commune in Paris, just over a hundred years ago, to come across as a laboured - not to say Laboured - slab of historical propaganda.

In the event you’d only be partially right.

Braecht, as ever, is quite happy to read “Communist” for “Communard” and character, as ever, tends to lose out to ideological demands.

But the sheer scale of the canvas, the heady idealism of the early days and the final headlong collapse offer lots of scope and this production seizes it gladly.

Antony Tuckey, the director, marshals his forces with skill, Martin Morley’s busy sets are both stylish and functional and Andrew Gardner’s imaginative lighting culminates in a splendid son et luminiere version of the burning of Paris.

“You are working men like us” proclaims a banner displayed by the defenders of Paris.

The banner is draped significantly across the cannon, as it spits out its Brechtian message - Destroy or be destroyed - at the fellow-Frenchmen outside.

The author has made his meaning perfectly clear. The production leaves it at that.


DAYS OF THE COMMUNE at the Liverpool Playhouse

By Stanley Reynolds   The Guardian

“ WHAT’S THIS CALLED?” The first lady seated behind me asked as the curtains went up last night.

“Days of the Commune” the second lady said.

“Oh” the third lady said, “No wonder I was getting funny looks when I said compound”.

There spoke the spirit of the Liverpool Playhouse. They go to the Playhouse in Liverpool like we used to go to the pictures, never asking what was on until you were actually sitting in the dark waiting for it to roll. It is not a bad thing at all. And it is the backbone of the English repertory theatre.

But here we had Bert holt Brecht’s saga of the Paris Commune of 18971. The story of the first truly Left-wing revolution. And the ladies sitting behind me need a truly Left-wing revolution like they need another breakdown in their central heating system.

Granted Brecht is, in the words of the Penguin paperback, a modern classic. Still, all this singing of the Marseilles, this manning of the barricades, this waving of the red flag, it’s all very revolutionary. In Liverpool this sort of business is usually left to the Everyman Theatre up the hill. The Everyman has the audience for this sort of thing - not under 30 but under 26.

I advise the under 26s to go to the Playhouse. This is a splendid production, done with all the lavishness which the wealthy Playhouse can give a production. There is a superb cannon, a steam locomotive, barricades - the sort of theatrical things which catch and delight the eye: expensive tricks that one doesn’t see in provincial productions of Brecht.

With all this the company did a very thorough job last night with all the prospects of improving as they settle in. Brian Coburn as Papa, that large expansive, honest worker figure of revolutionary art, gave perhaps the only outstanding performance. Coburn is a bull of a man, an heroic figure who looks 20 stone on stage, and he had the knack of Brechtian dialogue and the way of pitching his speeches out to the audience which one trusts the rest of the cast will take a lead from. Whether anything can be done with Teresa Campell’s part is something else. Poor Miss Campbell plays one of those earnest heroines, a bloodless grape of a woman. Brecht, more at home with racey dames, tarts and aged grotesques, never wrote this sort of character well. So Miss Campbell seems sometimes to have strolled accidentally from Checkhov. There is nothing I fear, that anyone could do about that, but something should be done about the singing. Marvellous scene with two beautiful songs, sung by Miss Campbell and Penelope Beaumont, is ruined by the use of a microphone which is handed about the stage like a bowl of salted nuts. No one can have that small a voice in that tiny theatre that they would need all that ear splitting electronics.

But never mind, this is a worthy production of an unusual and rarely seen play by one of the great playwrights of our time, and it deserves all the patronage that anyone who holds theatre as a dear and special place can give it.


DAYS OF THE COMMUNE

DESIGN FOR PLAYING STEALS THE SCENES     Article from Liverpool Daily Post Nov 1972

By Doreen Tanner

         

THE MOST spectacular piece of theatrical illusion the Playhouse has achieved in recent years began by stripping the stage to its back wall and laying bare all the workings of the set. Both, Antony Tuckey who directed, and Martin Morley, who designed that stunning scenery had worked on Brecht's own principle that the audience must never forget that they are in a theatre, that there must, in short be no illusion. Yet the setting stole the show.

And that was why I went to talk to Martin Morley in the tiny Playhouse office where he'd created that " "star" The first thing he did was to make it clear that for him work is very much a co-operative process.

"I like this because you don't work in isolation. It's not like being a, painter or a novelist. You have to work with people and make a lot of compromises and changes. It's very satisfying.

So for that Commune set: "It's very difficult to differentiate between which ideas were Mr Tuckey's and which were mine. We settled independently but at the same time that we would use the revolve. We wanted to get away from the rather drab approach people have to Brecht. Once we had the idea the set was basically incredibly simple."

More surprisingly still, that open set for the historical drama became the basis for the snugly intimate set for A Christmas Carol, "The two plays went together. The fact that the revolve was used for The; Com­mune first gave me the idea."Easily interchangeable sets were needed because "Carol" was playing matinees while Commune went on

in evening. This adjustment between practical. needs and the imaginative-" demands of' the play is what design is all about. Where imagination is concerned, Mr Morley says; almost apologetically, that he works by instinct.

"I read the play for atmosphere. then I make all sorts of meaningless doodles. For modern naturalistic plays I usually start by making furniture for the scale model, and thinking what kind of wallpaper they would have."

He came into the theatre from an art school training, followed by an Arts Council bursary at the Edinburgh Lyceum and designing for a two-weekly repertory at Harrogate. His first play here was Spring and Port Wine, which opened the 1969 season.He's also responsible for costume design, ;,though not for clothes-making, Practical considerations control imagination here, too.

"Commune, had a large cast with everyone doubling and trebling parts. We used a basic, fairly neutral costume which could be added to: black trousers for the men and blue-grey shirts, which was the colour worn by the National Guard in France at the time."

This precision of detail for a historical play involves research which he very much enjoys. That's why documentary plays have a special appeal: he mentions Black Spot on, the Mersey with its first striking image of slum dwellers against a crumbling wall.

"In modern dress plays,  the actors will know far more about their character and its general mood than I ever will. But for Commune they were all told what they were going to wear. There was no room for idiosyncrasies."

The same thing applies to Shake­speare and. the classics, where the tones of set and costumes must blend to give the overall mood of the production,. " For the Merchant of Venice, for instance, all Mr Tuckey said was: want it 1920s style with very easy entrances.' The rest was mine, once he had given me the 'twenties’.

He was using the model of that production to illustrate his working methods, the scale model that is ready when rehearsals start. " There are not an excessive amount of changes made. perhaps just wanting a bit more space here and there. On this one we wanted to get different atom-spheres The: Belmont scenes were more romantically lit ,, ; „"

Fantasy

The lighting designer is someone else with whom co-operate. In fact, by the time Martin Morley had finished taking about his job he had whittled it away to almost nothing, modestly losing himself between his colleagues Only as he talked of the plays he's designed, their sets were easy to recall, everything from fantasy, to suburban living room. The vividness of those, memories, bringing back forgotten productions, proved how the meaningless doodles  that are Martin Morley's starting point have grown over the past three years into a highly meaningful contribution to the total impact of the Playhouse.



Michael Billington on Ken Dodd’s ‘Ha Ha’

The Guardian Drama critic


I have a confession to make: I have a passion for standup comedy. As an adolescent I haunted the halls and even now carry round pin-bright memories of the incomparable Maxes (Miller and Wall), of the lugubrious Jimmy Wheeler, of Tommy Trinder, Jewel and Warriss (best of all double acts) and of a little-remembered duo called Morris and Cowley. I'm particularly glad I caught the fag-end of the music hall, since today we are breeding a new race of mini-comics who either spend all their time imitating other people (without making any impression) or who dance a bit, sing a bit, gag a bit and who have all the pungent flavour of processed cellophane-wrapped

Exceptions exist; and to me incomparably the finest is Ken Dodd, who this week opened a one-man celebration of humour at the Liverpool Playhouse called Ha Ha. Let me say instantly that this is the funniest evening I have spent inside a theatre since I saw Beyond the Fringe at the Edinburgh Lyceum in 1960. And partly for the same reason: that its sole aim is to make us laugh. There are no dancing girls in laddered fishnet, or dancing boys in bum-clinging trousers, no garish starlit backcloths, no tonsil-baring vocalists, no tumblers, trapeze artists or vent acts. All we have is Mr Dodd colonising the stage for over three hours, as if qualifying for the Guinness Book of Records with the longest comedy act ever.

It begins with those wayward teeth spot lit in what looks like a conscious parody of Billie Whitelaw in Beckett: and it goes on to run the gamut of Doddy jokes. There are old jokes ("Tonight we have the famous lady from Belgium, Ann Twerp, the well-known contortionist Willie Snapit , the fearless lion-tamer Claud Bottom"), blue jokes ("King Midas. Everything he touched turned to gold – it could be very embarrassing"), surrealist jokes. ("Men's legs have a terribly lonely life – standing in the dark in your trousers all day"), even topical jokes ("I saw a sign in an undertaker's window yesterday. Die now and avoid VAT").

Wisely, perhaps, Dodd avoids too much theorising. He quotes Freud's opinions that a laugh is a conservation of psychic energy; but, as he says, the trouble with Freud is that he never played Glasgow second house on a Friday night. Yet, in spite of its non-academic nature, the show tells us a great deal about the nature of comedy.

For a start, Dodd confirms something all the great theorists assert: that comedy appeals to the head and never the heart. Bergson refers to "the absence of feeling which usually accompanies laughter" and says that in a society composed of pure intelligences there would be no tears, whereas one made up of highly emotional souls would neither know nor understand laughter. And Meredith takes the same line in his famous Essay on Comedy: that laughter depends on quickness of perception. And if you listen to Dodd carefully you realise that even at his most rude, crude and basic, he is bombarding us with images and ideas that keep us in a state of frenzied mental alert

Accept the idea that laughter depends on absence of feeling; and it's a short step to acknowledging that it derives largely from other people's pain. Again Dodd proves this through illustration. He points out that in the last century people went to Bedlam to laugh at the lunatics. Of course, he says, we are now much more civilised: an idea which he then demolishes by donning brown mob-cap, pebble glasses and twisted expression to sing a number called "I'm not all there", at which the audience falls about. I suspect nowadays we are, in fact, more heartless (or saner?) then ever, in that we believe all human activity is fit subject for comedy; Monty Python bulges with gags about madness, sick jokes became a smart 60s cult, and I shall never forget hearing a famous poet and novelist say (in the late 50s) that the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament was full of middle-aged women who didn't believe two heads were better than one. What price Bedlam now?

I wish Dodd had taken the cruelty theory further and examined the rich American tradition of verbal insult (an inevitable by-product of a society that puts a high premium on gregarious affability). W C Fields greeting a monstrous fat man on a plane with: "Do you travel as one person or do you get a party rate of 10?"; or vehemently reproaching a fly-swatting bartender with "It's killers like you that give the West a bad name." Or remember Groucho assaulting Margaret Dumont with: "I hear they're going to tear you down and put up an office building where you're standing"; or telling her that her eyes are like pants of a blue serge suit and adding, when she complains of insult, that it's not a reflection on her, but the suit. Why do we laugh? Chiefly, I think, because the comic unmasks an aggression that lives in all of us, but that social conventions and good manners normally conceal.

I sound, however, as if I wish Ha Ha had been a lantern lecture: I'm glad it's not, for the practice of comedy is much more fascinating than the theory. And, as it is, the show provides a brilliant demonstration of comic technique. It reminds us, for instance, how much mileage can be got out of props and costumes. One of my favourite moments comes when Dodd brings on a giant Sally Ally drum and proceeds to beat out Come and Join Us, Go to Sleep My Baby, and Silent Night before asking the audience to Give In? His wardrobe is like something dreamed up by a colour-blind tailor on a weekend bender: a black cape with a lining striped like a Liquorice All sort, a maroon maxie allegedly made out of 28 moggies, a mustard-yellow coat and a titfer that is eminently fallacious.