Interview: Simon Pullum from Bash Street Theatre, ‘It still contains elements of the wonderful anarchy’

Based in Penzance in Cornwall, Bash Street Theatre has built an international reputation performing fast-moving, silent-comedy shows with live musical accompaniment.

Since their first performance in Morlaix, France in 1991, partners and co-founders JoJo Pickering and Simon Pullum have created 25 different productions and performed at major festivals in more than 20 European countries, as well as in Egypt, Turkey, Israel, Japan, Hong Kong, Macau and South Korea.

Their silent-movie show CLIFFHANGER! was awarded the ‘Best Street Show’ prize at Fira de Teatre, in Tàrrega, Spain.

We hear from Pullum about what it’s like to be back at Glastonbury for this year’s festival and the history of Bash Street Theatre.

Q&A with Simon Pullum

You co-founded Bash Street Theatre in 1991 – what was the inspiration behind the company?

As a young journalist, I first became fascinated by the weird and wonderful world of travelling theatre after attending Polgooth Fayre, the Festival of Fools and Elephant Fayre in Cornwall, way back in the late 1970s. There was Footsbarn Travelling Theatre, The Greatest Show on Legs, Forkbeard Fantasy, Doc Shiels, Palfi the Clown, The Lemmings, Daniel Rovai and The Barneys performing anarchic street theatre stunts seemingly without permits and unconstrained by the Health and Safety of today. I was enamoured by this wonderful world of stilt walkers, jugglers and fire breathers. 

Then I was fortunate enough to be given a chance to perform with the Penzance-based Shiva Theatre, but it was when travelling in France in 1990 that my partner and I were befriended by a street-circus duo who went under the name of Schpouki Rolls, and they helped us put on our first circus-cabaret show at a festival in Morlaix, in Brittany in 1991.

How does it feel to be returning to Worthy Farm for another Glastonbury Festival?

After performing at Glastonbury several times in the early years we lost contact for a while because we toured so much in Europe, but a chance meeting with Michael Eavis on Penzance harbour a few years back has resulted in us returning regularly over the last five years.

The most exciting thing is to be going with my family, and performing there with my son, Lochlann, and despite the magnitude of this glorious festival, it still contains elements of the wonderful anarchy that I fell in love with all those years ago. And Palfi the Clown is still there and as beautiful as ever!

What are your plans for this year’s shows?

We are performing The Battling Butlers which is an autobiographical musical show about a father-and-son, street theatre double-act. This is a new show which we have been touring to village halls throughout the UK over the last three months. We have also performed it at The Minack open air Theatre at Land’s End so we know it works as an outdoor show, but we will be presenting a 40-minute version at Glastonbury to better suite an itinerant audience.

How do Glastonbury audiences compare to other shows?

Well, there is so much going on at Glastonbury, so much to see, so much music, theatre, circus, dance, film etc outdoors and inside the huge circus tents and marquees, and we are a tiny, tiny element of the huge programme in the Theatre and Circus field let alone the whole festival. So, drawing a crowd is the first issue, and then keeping them is the second! But everyone is so relaxed and out to enjoy themselves – us included – so whether we have a crowd of five, fifty or five hundred who really cares…you’re performing at the greatest outdoor festival in the World!

Are there any other acts you’re looking forward to seeing across the weekend?

Lots of old pals, and fantastic circus and street theatre performers…oh, and there’s music as well, of course, so Billy Bragg, the Saw Doctors, the Bootleg Beatles, Cat Stevens and Elton John – now I really am showing my age.

Bash Street Theatre perform at Glebeland from Thursday to Sunday at Glastonbury Festival