this story is taking longer than I first anticipated,never the less I can console myself with the realisation that any worthwhile journey is extraordinary difficult. The history starts in the days of 60s England,not the England of fashion,style,music,protest and all the other associated "image references"which dominate the fantasy of the of the past.
This will be a walk through the history of anarchic play and the rise of youth clubs who became politically and culturally committed to resistance and education. A little known revolution was taking place in the cities of England and in the bombed out landscapes of the "inner city" Bomb spaces still existed and still manged to inflame the imaginations of young people. Street games where common ,the street wasn't a place of danger,it was a place of adventure,fun,and experimentation.It was a place where adults where,not excluded, but, rather not welcomed. Although there where occasions when adults could join in the fun these comings together where the exception rather than the norm. Communities still held a sense of identify even though those community identity's where increasingly under attack,from the encroaching modernisation of the city scape. The car was still in its infancy and travel abroad was unheard of. Modern high rise living was believed to hold the keys to a dynamic future. T,he cities where being reshaped, likewise attitudes where changing, moving away from the old certainties of street,place, and certainty's, families where leaving there old "places" communities wanted to become mobile and modern.Social mobility changed the old street loyalties.
A great amount of academic analyses observed how communities reacted to the changing dynamics of these new social upheaval's. But some other dynamic was underway ,a social anarchic movement called adventure playgrounds was taking place on the bombed sites of the inner cities.
The Child in the City a splendid book by the late Colin Ward details the importance of this history and the of play in the world of the child...Ward was an anarchist thinker, a humanist, and a wonderful teacher. The New York Review of Books wrote on reissues of the text"the authors perceptive eye for the physical environment picks up all the details that are usually missed by even the most practiced observer,but which are central to the child's world"
Colin Ward is one of those radical English radicals whose voice is quietly displaced in the post modern structures of "radical thought" I would say Ward was way ahead of his time and hie influence on the way we perceive the world is due for a reappraisal.
He was a thinker who spoke the language of people who's engagement with the world was real and embedded in a realty of struggle and resistance to the ruling elite, he did not bother with the academic posturings Coin Ward was an engaged fighter for social change and non violent struggle.His work greatly influenced the creative ideas which began to flow out of Oval House.
Play was an integral aspect behind the creative challenge offered up by Oval House.
Oval House was first and foremost a "Youth Club".It operated under the rules of Youth Clubs of the time .It had an age limit! 15 years to 24 years. You had to be a member to join. And the early days there was a form of sexual segregation. Oval House was a sports club.
The early history of Oval House is linked in with the ideology of the old English Class system(but this is another history). Oval House evolved during the 60s 70s 80s.It was never a theatre although theatre played a hugh role in its history, it became a site for play and improvisation and challenge.It also played a role in the development of community theatre and education,but it always retained its "anarchic values" .Oval House was a playground for experimentation and play.