Thursday Derek Jarman's film of 'The Tempest'
opens. Toyah Willcox, late of 'Jubilee' and
'Quadrophenia' plays Miranda. Chris Auty went in
search of Ms Willcox...
Easter weekend in Brighton, Scarborough and
Southend, nearly 400 kids, mostly mods and
skinheads, were arrested after violent clashes
with bikers, holidaymakers and police. Said one
mod, happily: 'The 60s were the great time.' In
outraged newspaper editorials the next day you
see one word: 'Quadrophenia'.
peeling posters for that film Toyah Willcox's
face stares out, a new Wave icon being used to
paper over the punk-mod gap. Strange to think
just how much the film originally relied on the
life-blood of punk culture; Johnny Rotten was
auditioned for the film's lead and Toyah came to
the film after 'Jubilee'.
she is in the new Derek Jarman film of 'The
Tempest'. Twenty-two this year, brought up in
Birmingham, learning to read only after she had
left her (Church of England) school, Toyah was
spotted because of her crazy hair: 'I told these
people to fuck off. I thought they were
perverts...' Now it isn't just the dirty old men:
'If I'm seen in the street now they run and try
to grab anything on me. I just cover my hair all
the time - it's the hair which does it.'
had their own interpretation of punk,' she said.
'Kids on the street thought it meant they could
hit people. Kids in bands thought meant they
could be political about fascism. Other kids
thought it meant they could be fascists. But at
the time it was exciting. It gave the 1970s a
reason for being . I thought the 1970s were a
very boring time and I thought punk was
exciting and needed. But like everything that's
really exciting, when it dies, it dies a death,
and everyone puts it down. I forgot about punk
after 'Jubilee' was released. I just started
itself pushed things to a crunch: Lambrettas in,
bondage out. In a pub near the Marquee in Soho,
Easter Friday, the pimps are doing their early
evening drinking. Two girls come in - bleached
hair, bondage gear and tartans. 'Oi!' yells the
barman, brutally pointing the way to the door,
'You know you can't come in here. Out!'
Conversation doesn't even falter
listened to Toyah's album, 'Sheep Farming In
Barnet' . On the radio I had heard she invented
the title on the spur of the moment, but I think
it smacks of calculation. So, after a while, does
the music: electric sounds mocking the electronic
age as Toyah's voice swoops and dives over a
synthesizer background like Patti Smith on speed.
What the angst-laden album cover doesn't prepare
you for is a psychedelic overtone that leaps
weirdly back into the acid culture:
believe that people should use drugs...people
abuse drugs, drugs don't abuse people...and have
their freedom to so what they want with their
false happiness. I was living in an old British
Rail warehouse in Battersea. There would always
be goings on there, like films showing on the
roof...it was a place to go and have a good time.
But the police banned me because I was getting
about 1,000 people there each night, and they
were on the roof and demolishing anything they
could lay their hands on...a riot.
I want to do now is buy a cinema and create a
place where people could come for 24 hours, take
what they want to take, and live out their own
fantasy by having images everywhere. I also want
to use it to do video things, and have bands
rehearsing, for people to get their things
together...experimenting with people's emotions.
And also I'd plant cameras and film these
without corruption...drugs without
punishment...and the world as her oyster: Toyah's
dreams have the ruthless naivety that made Warhol
and Mary Quant the coolest stars of their
to London, she appeared on TV and in 'Tales From
The Vienna Woods' at the National, and started a
band. Then, in the summer of 1977 she met Derek
Jarman, whose first film, 'Sebastiane', had just
been completed. 'I went along and had tea with
Derek, and read the script of 'Jubilee' and asked
Derek if I could play Mad, and Derek just said
yes. Simple as that.'
was a cult success in London, trailing its mildly
scandalous reputation, and Toyah's self-hating
role, through Punk's peak in 1977-78. The move
from stage to screen was one she welcomed.
acting as far as I'm concerned is very
frustrating, because it is too set. You do the
same thing night after night for months on end.
But on film you are acting to a make-believe
audience and that excites me totally. You are
concentrated into a machine which has got to go
through a process, and it has got to go out into
all these people's brains. On film it has to be
perfect every time - it really keeps you on your
toes...And I like the camera, I like having to go
in front of it.'
did she get her part in 'Quadrophenia'?
Roddam, the director, was thinking of casting
Johnny Rotten (Lydon) in the lead role, and I
went along and helped him audition by improvising
with him and being a friend to him. Then the
insurance people refused to insure the film with
Lydon in it. So I thought "Fuck, I've been
chucked because Lydon's been chucked",
and I went along to Franc and told him to
give me the part of Monkey...and I think he was
so taken aback - I was quite rude - that he gave
me the part. Partly because he couldn't think of
anyone else to do it.
about that time the Pistols started on their
film, 'The Great Rock And Roll Swindle'. For a
while - when Russ Meyers was due to direct -
Toyah was going to take part in the movie. Then,
like so many names associated with the project,
her role fell through. Derek Jarman, meanwhile,
was casting for his next project, 'The Tempest'.
had read 'the Tempest' once, and it was truly the
only Shakespeare play that I felt interested in
because the story from the very beginning had
mystique, and I felt I could follow it, whereas
with other Shakespeare stuff you've got to read
it all the way through before the characters
really connect - I find his language so hard to
understand that by the time I reach the end I've
forgotten the beginning.'
Jarman change the language of the play?
but he cut out the boring bits, which I'm very
grateful for, because Shakespeare doesn't half
gabble on. Not everyone can get into that, and I
think by cutting certain bits Derek has expanded
the audience. I think it's a fabulous film.'
the exception of cod-Freud sci-fi film (made in
1956 and entitled 'Forbidden Planet'), Jarman's
'Tempest' is the first celluloid version of the
play. The dreamy magnificence of the original,
with its embittered, exiled magician-king
stirring a tempest of nature and mind to
transform a wrong turning from his past, is
better rendered than in most stage productions.
The film's willingness to fantasize eases the
notoriously compact rhythms of the play. It also
banishes the one major headache of theatrical
versions, the presentation of Ariel, Prospero's
genie, whose appearances, disappearances, and
general magic play a large part in the plot. 'The
Tempest' is one of those rare films in which
every element of production fell into place: the
crew (many of whom had worked on Jarman's earlier
films), the impressive cast, above all, the
mysterious, decaying location of Stoneleigh Abbey
where the film was shot.
the end of the movie almost everyone was living
in the abbey. Each night there used to be cabaret
shows. Everyone would put on a show and get
pissed out of their brains. I was forever
exploring the place, and I remember once it was
just before dawn and there was no electricity in
certain parts of the house, I remember walking
into a cellar and there was just a ray - one beam
- of light...coming out, looking around...and
slowly my eyes became accustomed and it was full
of stuffed animals, stuffed bears, and they were
all facing me. It was early early in the morning,
I was quite pissed, and that moment captured the
whole energy in the place.'
amazement in her voice matches her role as
Miranda, emphasized in the film by the deletion
of elements of comedy and intrigue. Miranda/Toyah
is the original wild child enchanted by a brave
new world. Like Toyah's dream of a palace of
images, like the psychedelic ramblings of 'Sheep
Farming In Barnet', like Stoneleigh Abbey, the
new world is a metaphor for imagination, a
pleasure dome through which to wander on the
passage away from childhood.
is Saturday afternoon in a North London studio.
Standing in the livid red spotlight, in her New
Wave haute couture, Toyah waits patiently. She is
'into art fashion', and wears regally black
clothes, rings, bronze bangles. Surrounded by
four men in the studio, who arrange and dissect
her, it is hard to tell whether she is the
heroine or the victim of the event. In 'the
Tempest' Miranda confesses: 'I do not know/One of
my own sex; no woman's face remember/Save, from
my glass my own', an admission that her sense of
innocent wonder is possibly only because of the
island solitude her father has imposed.
aloofness in the red spotlight is different. It
is a display of self-possession.
hate showing my body...really hate it. I don't
mind so much now, but I have lost almost two
stones since that nude scene in 'The Tempest'. It
was very bad at that particular time. I was
supposed to be 16 but to me I have the body of a
30-year-old. And now I find, as I am slowly
becoming established as an actress I am being
offered things just to show my face somewhere,
phenomenal amounts of money...'
greases back her flaming red hair for the last
few shots, and stands sideways to the camera,
stubborn not to lose the pose although she is
tired. the camera whirrs in the stale room. The
light outside fades fast. After the last take we
step fro ma dark interior into a warm and
twilight London. Toyah leaves with her roadie,
Jem - off to the Marquee to do the mixing on her
new album. The photographer stays behind packing
would only go to America for a fucking good
reason. There are so many tits hanging around in
Hollywood anyway, and I think they are just there
because the money is phenomenal and they can lead
a life of luxury. I don't want that. I like being
on the move. I watch things and I study things,
but I just live my own life. I want to create my
Thanks to Andi Westhorpe