Forkbeard Fantasy are a multi-media theatre company. The idea of Forkbeard Fantasy came in the early 1970s with three brothers - Simon, Chris and Tim Britton. Simon was a painter and maker of kinetic mechanical sculptures; Chris, fascinated by experimental and physical theatre, devised constructions and gadgetry to perform within; and Tim, a poet, writer and cartoonist, could see how his imaginative world might be realized in live performance.
It was Chris who saw the creative possibilities of forming a performance group - and he worked hard as a postman to raise the money to buy first an Austin J4 Van and then a Revox Tape-recorder. All three brothers shared a delight in bizarre and comical contraptions, in creating ridiculous situations where isolated eccentrics struggled to survive in incomprehensible worlds. With available friends they began putting on ad hoc events, living exhibitions and performances in any public place that would let them get away with it.
Very much out on a limb in the early days, Forkbeard soon found that they fitted most comfortably within the new wave of British experimental performance and performance art that had been burgeoning since the 1960s. It was a time of much mixing of media, kinetic and ‘living’ sculptures, performance art, happenings, poetry performance and squeaky-bonky jazz, all elements, art forms and media which were fast becoming as much to do with live theatre as the play and the text. But the mainstream theatre was reluctant to accept any of it at that time. As a result, much of it happened in galleries, pubs, music venues, clubs, festivals, fairs, streets, church halls and shop windows...and in the then tiny handful of arts centres which were only beginning to emerge.
Today there’s a vast array of artists, companies and venues presenting extraordinary and unexpected mixed media work, neither bound by art form or language, whose tentacles of possibility have created wonderful creative hybrids attracting huge audiences worldwide. Dance, theatre, opera, circus, art, film, music are all interwoven in endless permutations. But, believe it or not, in the early 1970s the early experimenters in these mixed media forms were very few and far between.
So Forkbeard have been producing and presenting their highly individual brand of comic surrealism, creating performances, theatre shows, films, cartoons, automata, sculptures, special events, installations and interactive exhibitions across the UK and abroad without stop since the mid 1970s. As such they are one of the UK’s longest surviving independent performing arts companies and certainly the oldest with the same original members still writing, producing and performing in all the shows. The work, always true to its struggling origins, still combines theatre with special effects, mechanical sets and contraptions, outsize puppetry and automata, and their particular trademark interactive mix of film, animation and cartoon live on stage – a medium now widely seen on the stage today but in which FF have long been seen as pioneers.
Forkbeard will happily talk of inspirations and influences as varied as Ealing Comedies, The Goons and Edward Lear, of Flann O’Brien, The Theatre of the Absurd, Frank Zappa, Tintin (to whom there’s rarely a show without at least one reference), to P.G.Wodehouse, Stanislav Lem, Tadeusz Kantor, Bruce Lacey, the 60s Happenings in the USA, Joseph Beuys and La Grande Magique Circus. But there are of course always many more. Forkbeard have always as enthusiastically embraced the old, the trickery and magic of vaudeville, Victorian stage illusion and early cinema pioneers, as they have modern art, technology and the endlessly unfolding possibilities of new digital media.
Simon, still strongly associated with the company, is now a painter and sculptor in his own right. So today it is Chris and Tim, along with designer and maker Penny Saunders (who joined in 1979), performer and sound wizard Ed Jobling (1987), and film-maker and editor Robin Thorburn (on & off since the ‘70s) who now make up the central artistic team. Other artists and performers collaborate on specific projects; and Janice May (1995) manages the company, with administrator Deborah Harrison (2000) and a fine Board of Trustees.
Some of the stage & outdoor shows and even a few films & exhibitions are listed on the following pages below. We hope it gives a good flavour of the kind of work Forkbeard has created over the last 35 years.