Adrian Howells was rightly so a legend amongst theatre makers in Glasgow and London. I first met Adrian in Glasgow in 2004 not long after becoming the new Festival Producer of Glasgay!. Adrian was artist in residence at The Arches and our friends there, Jackie Wylie, LJ and Niall Walker were supporting Adrian in the creation and staging of Adrienne’s Dirty Laundry Experience. Set in one of the basement spaces Adrian had set up a show that met you at the door with the sound and smells of small backstreet laundry. In his inimitable style you were welcomed and offered a little light refreshment, if not a cup of a tea and a sticky finger. A stock phrase of his that we often exchanged when we agreed to meet on occasions. Adrian was a master of the subtle double entendre and a wistful knowing glance. My burning memory of that first show was sharing a hearty laugh with my fellow laundry inmates as Adrienne emptied out her wash bag of laundry only to reveal a large pair of “chocolate” stained mens undies and ask “well I wonder who brought these?”. For my part I had taken a small tight-fitting t-shirt bought in Bangkok in 1999 during a round-the-world trip and asked Adrienne if she could wash me back into it as a slimmer model. Adrian as ever said “it’s all allowed”. And so over a few nights in a dark winter festival Adrienne took hold and warmed our hearts with her generosity.
Of course Adrienne was a flamboyant mask for the inner gay man. Adrian was a quiet, determined person who always brought out the best in his audience. While he shared sometimes painful memories you were allowed to recognise and share similar experiences. His childhood and his adult relationships seemed to be peppered with heart-rending accounts of failed love, longing, rejection and loss, and for many gay men in his audiences these experiences were commonplace. He created a space for us that simply did not exist – a confessional – a ministry of the heart – in an otherwise aggressively heterosexual world that cared little for gay men. The magic of Adrian was he bridged those worlds, creating love, respect and understanding of issues amongst his audiences.
Over the years he evolved as much as equality and society’s appreciation of human sexuality progressed. I remember one artists talk he gave at CCA when asked by a young contemporary practice student “why he couldn’t perform without the mask of Adrienne”. Adrian in his ever pithy style stated “but darling I’ve done years of Panto”. We all laughed but it was soon after that Adrienne was put to bed. However not before Adrian’s success in that creation led to a commission by Julie Parker at the Drill Hall London to create “An Audience with Adrienne“. It was the culmination of years of intimate shows and played to sell out houses in London’s Drill Hall in March 2006. The show gave him an enlarged canvas to display his love of memorabilia be it social and ever so personal, from the framed photos of childhood heroes, to the favourite LP’s and 45’s, the kitsch carpets and wallpaper, the trinkets, the trivia and the multifarious paraphernalia he had gathered over a lifetime. They all told a story, held a memory and added to the power of his collective experience and sharing. Adrian kindly agreed to re-create the show for Glasgay! in Autumn 2006 and in a little Saltmarket studio he worked his magic at every performance.
Adrian Howells was many things, a wonderful artist, a friend to us all, a gatherer and a sharer. He was generous to a fault and gave of himself so utterly and freely. His legacy is in all of those who shared in his life and experiences and the business of show is perhaps a little sadder and more serious without him. He was much-loved and even if the arts are a hard mistress his death reminds of the glorious worlds he created, the joy of being together and the simple act of sharing. He will be missed greatly by many.
for Adrian xxx
Steven Thomson, Producer