In 2016 Ged moved to Bradford. There was an improv class in his local community centre so he joined. A theatre maker since the mid-80s Ged had used improv in rehearsals and workshops for thirty years. He’d been a part of the project Ken Campbell organised with the Liverpool Everyman. He’d taken part in 80-hour improvathons, but joining that little class reminded him that improv is a superb exercise. With no intention of performing, just as a workout of the imagination, the buzz from working that part of the brain is joyous and very useful. Your Imagination touches on everything – problem solving, solution finding, empathy, communication. The imagination is a muscle. It can atrophy but it can also strengthen and develop. You’ve just got to give it a fair chance.
He trained with one of the original founders of modern improv, Keith Johnstone, in 2018 in Berlin. He has trained in improv with UCB, Hoopla, Box of Frogs, Improquo, Discount Comedy Checkout, and the Maydays. He has regularly attended the British Improv Weekend. He was a founder member of Chaos Emporium in 2016. He created the Bradford Improv Group in 2017.
Ged directed a Shakespeare in the Park in Yorkshire in 2016. He created Shipley Little Theatre in 2016, directing a new play (“Making Light”, Eddie Lawler) for tour in 2017. He appeared in several roles (including King David and a goat) in the Shipley Mysteries in 2017. He trained in Theatre of the Oppressed (the use of improv for social change) with Reclaim the Roots in 2017 and again in 2019. He directed the annual outdoor Shakespeare in Bradford Cathedral in 2018. In a break from improv, in 2019 he appeared in Martin McDonough’s “Hangmen”, the first time he’d appeared in a staged scripted work in nearly twenty years. For most of 2020 he’s been shut indoors because of a plague.
Ged spent the first ten years of his life in an official slum, with an outside toilet, one coal fire for heating, and no bathroom. 34 Salop Street, Walton in Liverpool. It was pulled down in slum clearances in the early 1970s. According to Google Maps it’s now an Aldi carpark. The old funeral home, the smell of formaldehyde from which Ged can still smell in memory, is now a MacDonalds. It’s probably best not to dwell on that.
The son of a trade union shop steward, some of Ged’s earliest and happiest memories are in that house, helping his dad paint strike banners in front of the coal fire.
Ged spent the ’70s on a council estate in the buttock end of Liverpool. It was a cultural desert as so many of those estates are*, and Ged would sneak out into the centre of the city to visit art galleries and theatres, lying about where he’d been to avoid largely homophobic abuse. The memory of those years, and how much of an outsider he felt, how much aggressive resistance the people around him had to the culture that was by right theirs, that should have been their birth right, has informed him ever since.
(*In later years Ged would work on estates of thousands of homes, sprawling for hectares, with no cultural spaces. House after house after house with no meeting places outside a pub, not even a green space. Nowhere to create, nowhere to just be. He’d then attend very expensive conferences where people who’d only ever driven through them wondered why there were social issues on large estates.)
Despite longing to get involved in theatre, it wasn’t until moving to Bradford to begin a degree in Community Arts in the mid 80s that he found any sort of accessible opportunity. 1986 would see him in a community centre in Liverpool creating shows with disadvantaged youngsters. By 1988 he was acting at Bradford Playhouse, the Yorkshire Evening Post kind enough to say that he had a “natural gift for comedy”. He took classes at the Yorkshire Dance Centre, studying mime with Rowan Tolley and with the late and utterly wonderful Mick Wall. While at the YDC he would be very generously allowed to participate in a student project being run by DV8 Dance Theatre. Under the excellent tutelage and endless patience of the much missed Nigel Charnock Ged danced with DV8 Dance Theatre. Sort of. Ged would like to point out that he was a lot fitter and thinner back then.
By 1989 he was back in Liverpool, a member of the original Network Theatre, an agit prop protest performance group that toured extensively, performed politically aware new writing, and ran the “Theatre for a Change” performance festival. If you’d been around Liverpool then you’d have seen him in street theatre, wearing a rubber nose, giving Maggie Thatcher a stern ticking off. She wasn’t there.
By 1991 he was working with The Seconds Out Theatre Workshop. As well as community shows, and playing Lt Ralph Clark in the north west England premier of Timberlake Wertenbaker’s “Our Country’s Good” (in which the Liverpool Echo said he was “fine and believable”) Ged received an astoundingly good training from the very wonderful Laurence Hunniford and others, and improvised every single day for a full year. It did not occur, as we were putting shows together, to use what we saw as a rehearsal and devising technique as an actual show. Our loss.
By 1995 Ged was onstage at the Liverpool Everyman, directing at Liverpool Playhouse, and acting for a local company. After that folded he rebooted the by now fallow Network Theatre, building it from four members in 1995 to over eighty by 2000. As part of that he created a hugely successful Shakespeare in the Park project which toured parks and stately homes within the wider Liverpool area and is still going strong today. The Network ran workshops in forum theatre (theatre for social change) for charities*, and hosted workshops by trainers from around the world. At one point around the turn of the millennium The Network was insanely busy. It was glorious but it was absolutely consuming. The Network has since trodden a slightly more traditional, slightly less life-devouring path. Ged wishes them well.
(*sorry, I have to tell a story. We did a day’s training for Friends of the Earth, and as part of it we had them knock a very simple sketch together. One group stood there as trees while one of them was a monkey swinging from tree to tree. Then one by one the trees walked off, leaving the monkey with nowhere to swing. It was… have you seen Amadeus? Right at the start where Salieri is looking at Mozart’s music saying “It was so simple, comical almost, but….” it was like that. So simple. Comically simple. but so, so powerful. You can hit me with all the deforestation figures you want, but the memory of that poor monkey running out of trees is still with me twenty years later. Superb work. Absolutely superb. Ahem. Sorry)
In 2002 Ged co-launched Red Ant, a theatre company constituted as a worker’s collective. Red Ant toured a number of productions, including Van Badham’s “Bedtime for Bastards”, a violent anti Gulf war and anti capitalism piece which involved nudity and bondage. Taking that into community venues was fascinating. Red Ant would fold, for personal reasons, in 2005. Some members of Red Ant would try to carry on as Strange Roads, but we were pretty much burned out at that point. We did a couple of productions but we were exhausted. In 2008 we took a break.
Since 2017 he has run the Bradford Improv Group.