In 1972, Michael Almaz, fellow Israeli David Mouchtar-Samorai and his wife Fiona Moore, decided to do a play together about Antonin Artaud called Monsieur Artaud. Its success at the Edinburgh Festival in a double bill with Dreyfus on Devil’s Island the following year, and their subsequent invitation to tour the plays in the US, provoked them to adopt The Artaud Company as their company name.
Michael was a prolific writer, inventing many new plays and adapting existing texts – something he had done since his youth in Tel Aviv. He directed the Artaud Company and then the Cafe Theatre with the help of Associate Directors from 1973-1996. Tomek Borkowy helped to run it from 1983 – 86, followed by Kerry Irvine, who assisted and then ran it until 1996, when it finally closed.
Michael met his wife Pam Martell in 1971 when she was working at the LSE across the road from Bush House, where he was a journalist and broadcaster. They met in the BBC canteen where the menu was international and more to her taste. Michael introduced Pam to his views on theatre and, as a political activist, she was drawn to his political and revolutionary theatre. His play Paper Tiger, for example, was an outrageous feminist farce. Pam organised a production at the LSE, which was a big hit with all the students! Pam went on to co-ordinate all the Artaud Theatre tours, publicity and photography, casting, stage direction including costume, set and lighting designs.
Key company members, then and now
Many wonderful actors worked with the Artaud Company over the years. The composition was constantly changing and evolving. Michael Almaz wrote most of the plays, some with specific actors in mind, giving them the opportunity to show their full range. The people who were most involved with the company are listed below. All are now core- members of the newly re-launched Café Theatre Productions.
David Mouchtar Samorai (founder member, actor and director): David Mouchtar-Samorai and his wife Fiona Moore acted in Monsieur Artaud and Dreyfus on Devil’s Island at the Edinburgh Festival in 1973, prior to touring the USA. David directed Inquisition and other plays by Michael. David was born in 1942 in Bahgdad, taken to Israel as a small child by his parents. He later studied in London. David and Michael co-founded and ran the Martev Theatre in Tel Aviv. They later founded with Fiona Moore, the Artaud Theatre Company together in London in 1973. David is now a director of theatre and opera based in Germany and Austria, principally in Berlin and Vienna.
Sally Willis (Founder member, actor, playwright): Michael wrote 5 plays for Sally to perform, 4 of these were solo shows. She toured Europe with these plays to great acclaim between 1974 and 1977. Sally is now a group psychoanalyst and returning to the theatre as a playwright and actor.
Tomek Borkowy (actor, director and producer) arrived in London from Poland and started work with Michael as an Assistant Stage Manager at the Café Theatre Upstairs, at the Bear and Staff Pub in the West End. He progressed rapidly through being Stage Manager to Co-Director and worked closely with Michael in London and Edinburgh between the years of 1983 and 1990. Tomek Borkowy is now Director of Universal Arts in Edinburgh.
Kerry Irvine: (Core member, director and producer):Began working with Café Theatre in 1992 as assistant stage manager at the Ecology Centre in Covent Garden, soon progressed to Stage Manager then Co –Director, assisting Michael on Miss Julie. Then through Michael’s mentoring went on to direct several of Michael’s plays (Miss Julie, Elsa, Judgement, Underground Man, Intimacy) with numerous casts. In early 1995 Kerry oversaw the Café Theatre’s move to Wild Court, opening a theatre in the original Suffragettes building until late 1996. Kerry is now a senior lecturer at Bath Spa University. She is Director of the company Producer Works and Theatre Lab where she continues to direct and produce.
Pam Martell (company director and founder member): ‘I remember it was at the Café Theatre Downstairs in one of the shared venues, The Notre Dame Hall in Leicester Square. The audience sat at tables with check covers (I still have one of them), with candles. I made the cakes myself then. Lindsay Anderson’s favourite was Bakewell tart which he had with orange juice.’
One play that stands out is Intimacy, which earned the title of ‘the longest running play on the fringe’ – it ran from 1981 to 1996. Originally directed by Michael, it was also directed by Tomek in countries as far flung as Poland and Czechoslovakia. The play was based on Jean Paul Sartre’s story, Intimacy, the story of a complex, competitive, love-hate relationship between two young Parisienne women, Lulu and Rirrette, frighteningly often reflected in the off-stage relationship between the two actresses! The play attracted so much interest that it was attended by the likes of theatrical luminaries such as Dustin Hoffman, Lindsay Anderson, Susannah York and Terence Stamp.