After leading visitors to a sub-basement deep below Brighton Town Hall – the kind that would have been repurposed in the lead up to nuclear war – I used stories, music and verbatim accounts from the archives to recall the lives of Britain’s self-styled nuclear survivalists.
In the 1980s, while most of us lived in fear of Armageddon, a small band of enthusiasts prepared for nuclear war with relish, as though it was an extended, underground caravanning holiday. Meanwhile, a secretive UK-wide group of volunteers – the Royal Observer Corps – were drilling themselves to leave their families in the lead up to nuclear war. They planned to staff monitoring posts around the country. Here, they hoped to warn the rest of us of bombs and radiation, giving some of us a chance of survival.
This surprising, strangely moving and sometimes darkly funny show is based on rarely seen discoveries from the British archives. Details lurch from the sanguine to the absurd or grimly fatalistic, as I reveal what survivalists and the UK government had in store – plans which reflect the best and worst of our humanity. Actor Colin Uttley performs the words of former ROC volunteers. Hugo, our dilapidated, robotic ventriloquial sidekick, reads government announcements that were prepared in case of war. These are presented sequentially as the evening progresses, as though we were moving towards the inevitable.
This show started as a 25 minute talk at the Catalyst Club, Brighton, and Port Eliot Festival. It provoked a flood of memories and high emotion from audience members who grew up in the shadow of the bomb. That’s why I decided to create a full-length show for the Brighton Fringe, complete with music, readings, film and automata. Nuclear missiles marked our lives profoundly, even though they remained in the silos.
This low-budget, independent show was awarded Most Groundbreaking Act of Brighton Festival and Fringe 2013. I’m grateful to theatre maker Emma Kilbey for directing the show and for helping me create a cohesive evening of theatre. Thanks to everyone who came along and shared their memories at one of the performances. Read a review of the show from Fringe Guru.
Horlicks and Armageddon has been performed at various other venues, including The Last Tuesday Society, Mare Street, London, 2015, where Emma Kilbey took on the role of an ROC volunteer.