THROUGH THE LOOKING GLASS: ACTOR TIM POTTER
Tim Potter would be a glorious Mad Hatter. He is creative, experimental and intensely loyal to his craft, he seems to relish in a challenge, having played many diverse roles over the years. He was just as at home playing Captain Hook in Finding Neverland (starring Johnny Depp) as he was portraying Spanish genius and serial lunatic Salvador Dali at the Royal Court. He stretched his skills even further playing Blanche DuBois in a production A Streetcar named Desire.
I met Tim at the Carlisle College of Art in the 1970s, we were both in the foundation course and became friends. He was striking, intelligent and hilarious. We had to do a bit of everything, and when Theatre came around Tim and I were in the same group. As luck would have it, it was Panto season. To my humiliation and horror I was chosen to play the Princess to 200 screaming kids twice daily for a week of torture. I was overweight, not pretty, a party animal and it was the eve of Punk. I was poured into an ugly Laura Ashley smock dress, hairpiece and make up that would have horrified the worst drag Queen. Tim played a brilliant Dick Dastardly type villain that was so scary one little boy had an accident when Tim went into the audience. As I climbed reluctantly up a wobbly high scaffold tower, stuck my head out of the "window" and cried help, one kid went as far as to shout "I wouldn’t marry her if you paid me!"
It was in this Theatre that one lunchtime I found Tim playing, very loudly, a fantastic record by a band called The Sex Pistols, and before I could say "Anarchy" I was hooked and soon morphed into "Looby”, the bow-loving colourful punk, egged on to be more OTT by Tim and his childhood friend Richard Ostell. When we went home at weekends we went to Maxim's disco in Barrow where once a week they had punk night. If the bands turned up (in those years it was always if) they would play to a handful of people - Tim and friends pogo-ing madly and Richard and I posing.
When Foundation finished Tim and I headed South - Tim to the Central School of Speech and Drama me to Ravensboune which fortunately was near Bromley, the town that the infamous" Bromley Contingent" which included Siouxsie, Steve Severin, Billy idol and Philip Salon, had put on the punk map. We had great nights up in the West End and at Croydon Greyhound. One afternoon, Tim and a friend popped a note through actor John Hurt’s door (he lived opposite) inviting him for coffee, and to their amazement he came and was just great. What a gent, what an actor! He was filming the Elephant Man at the time and told them David Lynch had shown the cast Eraserhead on set.
One of the last times I saw Tim in person was at a soiree celebrating his birthday held by his friend Rupert Everett at his flat in Chelsea. Tim was sitting in a rocking chair dressed as Miss Haversham, full of great expectations. (HA couldn’t resist!) That was the last memory I had of him until recently when we got back in touch, so very Tim. I spent many years living out of the country and so we had lots to catch up on. He told me that around 1979 he was a member of Acme Acting, explaining that the troupe would take the play to people’s homes. I was so interested and asked him if he would write a piece about his experiences way back then. He did and sent me some fabulous, startling pictures of himself in some of the productions he has been in. Enjoy!
Judith (as 'Looby') with Tim Potter (far left) and Richard Ostell, 1977
Over to Tim Potter...
Tim Potter as Captain Hook in Finding Neverland, 2004
ACME ACTING performed plays in people’s homes. That is, we used the whole of the house, and the audience followed us room to room. The doorbell rang, and that was the start of the show. In Psycho, Norman Bates would enter, showing his guest, Marion Crane, around "The Bates Motel", i.e., your flat. Speaking dialogue from the movie, he'd fix her a snack of milk and cookies from your fridge, and chat to her over the kitchen table, with you watching, sometimes inches from the actors’ faces. When Marion took her shower (Marion was me, in black 1950s corset and knickers - well, I lacked the required female "bits"), I remember one householder, in a panic, begging us to stop. She got really freaked out. We didn't stop. How could you stop in the middle of a murder? In fact, we generally had the upper hand in the house, running up and down stairs, rifling through drawers and "personal things", using cutlery, serving up meals. The main shows, Psycho and Streetcar Named Desire, were played as realistically as possible (despite the inherent absurdity), so audiences ideally would be moved as well as amused. It was helped by being acted in real rooms and hallways, and peoples' homes took on a new dimension as backdrops to the drama. Your washing machine might go into a spin cycle, noisily interrupting one of Blanche and Stanley's scenes in Streetcar. Your pet dog might get very friendly with Norman Bates’ leg. Would you ever sleep soundly in your bed again, after witnessing Stanley rape Blanche there? (to the sound of jungle drums.) Would you ever step into that shower again? We left fake blood on the bathroom tiles, and people with a whole host of cracked memories.
ACME ACTING were Jim, Tim and Louis, recent graduates of the hated (to us anyway) Central School of Speech and Drama, a very conservative place. We needed to rebel against that authority (they'd expelled our friend Rupert Everett, so what the hell did they know?) and the youthful mood of the times was punkish, experimental, in a way perhaps unknown today. Our theatre company reflected that. It was a surprise hit, having a life of its own, and we performed to a lot of thrilled audiences - although it could go wrong, and I'm thinking of one Psycho to a solitary lady and dog in a council flat, where the performance was greeted only with a depressed silence. Ah, well...
For Tim Potter's full acting credits go to IMDb. Tim now lives in Brighton and is writing a children's book - perhaps a copy will find its way to the child of the child Tim scared all those years back? Alas that we will never know but in true dramatic style let’s assume it will!
Tim Potter and ACME ACTING in i-D magazine
Tim, Jim and Louis of ACME ACTING
ACME ACTING photos courtesy Tim Potter; photo of Judith Frankland by Denise Grayson