My friend Christine Eccles, who died at the age of 75, was a writer, theater director and activist who lived her principles and ideals with brilliant vigour, spirit and energy.
In the early 1970s she set up her own theater company, Mayday, at the newly opened Battersea Arts Center in south London (based in Battersea’s Old Town Hall), where the plays and events she rode in subsequent years faced community issues. with exuberance, playfulness and subversion.
There was Once Round Lil, Twice Round the Gasworks (1974), about catalog culture, living from never-never; The Adventures of Jack Boot (1975), on the rise of the National Front; and The Black Shop (1975-76), exploring working conditions in a local factory.
Other shows included All the Councilors’ Men (1976-77), about poor housing conditions on the Doddington estate of Battersea, and Dead Generations (1976), which focused on John Burns, elected Socialist MP for Battersea in 1892.
There were also rock’n’roll musicals: Urban Gorilla Rock, in 1976, about direct action, and, in 1977, the year of the Queen’s Silver Jubilee, a punk rock show, Jubulubu ( an adaptation of Ubu Roi by Alfred Jarry), which had its run while the Sex Pistols were on the charts with God Save the Queen.
Born in Warrington, Cheshire, Christine was the second daughter of Mary (née Cunnane), from Co Sligo, and Hugh Eccles, an RAF officer. She was educated at St Bernard’s Convent School in Slough, Berkshire, then went to the University of Leeds, graduating in 1968 with a degree in English, followed by an MA in Theater Arts. While in college, she became involved in several theatrical projects with controversial director and teacher Albert Hunt, whose influence was evident when she established the Mayday Theater Company in 1974.
Mayday’s shows have been broadcast to a wide range of audiences, from playgrounds and mother and baby groups to ICA. But after Arts Council funding ceased during the Thatcher years, the society closed in 1982.
Subsequently, Christine turned to other areas of cultural work. She became an arts critic for publications such as The Sunday Times, Time Out and City Limits, where she and I worked together for a time. She also wrote a book, The Rose Theater (1990), about Elizabethan theatre.
Christine’s loyalty to Battersea – where she had lived since the Mayday company was founded – was unwavering. From the 1970s she was a member of Pavement, a community support group which also had a newspaper, and with the local Shaftesbury Foundation (and other charities) she worked with local children who had needs special education. A lifelong socialist, in 1999-2000 she was chairman of the Battersea Labor Party.
Her greatest joy, however, was being surrounded by her family and friends, including her beloved dog, Cro, and especially organizing what became known as ‘Crown Thursdays’. (in his local pub), reminiscing about the good old days and enjoying his favorite drink, whiskey.
Christine is survived by her partner, John Garrett, her son, Jack, from her marriage to Derek Thompson, which ended in divorce in 1980, three grandchildren, Ella, Alice and Harriet, and her brothers and sisters Patrick and Diana.