Uppendown Mooney

Close up detail title

Gaze upon this magnificent art work and fall in love with Welfare State International.

I found this gorgeous poster recently, it’s huge and I haven’t been able to document it as a whole yet, but I could not resist sharing these smaller parts.

The poster impressed us all in the Mid Pennine Arts office but it also caused some discussion because of the date. I shall explain.

Welfare State first started in Bradford in 1968, a group of creative young people looking for a different way to live and perform away from what I imagine they thought of as the  limitations and restrictions of conventional theatre.

Meanwhile at Mid Pennine Arts Association, Jennifer Wilson, the Director, created the role of Theatre Fellow in the form of a resident artist who could work with the community. Initially this was linked to Nelson College, but when the Fellowship became available in 1973 Welfare State International were approached. They agreed, and took up residence in Burnley on Heasandford Quarry.


“This was part of their (MPAA) arts programme in the community which was innovative even in a generally adventurous period.” (Radical Mayhem 1968-2006 Welfare State International and It’s Followers, Gillian Whiteley, 2008)

Description of MPA - Welfare State relationship - 1973 -side 2

“On a plateau above a polluted river skirting greenhouses, allotments, new factories and NCB sludge, the Welfare State settlement – a cross between a Bolivian tin-mine, T S Eliot’s ‘Wasteland’ and an Inca stilt village – is growing…“  (Welfare State, Beauty and the Beast, exhibition leaflet, Burnley, May, 1973)

Uppendown Mooney was conceived and toured just after Welfare State finished their residency with MPAA in 1978. This wonderful poster will not be in our digital archive for that reason. As a stand alone production it has nothing to do with MPA. What I will say, and this is my own opinion, is that having the stability of a base in Burnley gave this extraordinary and influential theatre company the time to form and develop their ideas of creating and performing ritualistic ceremonial theatrical experiences.

Close up detail Lord Claude

I had to share this with you all some how, it gives such a rare glimpse of what the Welfare State performances were actually like. Can you imagine being in the presence of Lord Claude? An incredibly powerful and intimidating figure – he’d scare me to death! With Adrian Mitchell’s searing words still relevant today and having lost nothing in their passage through time. This is the anger of the ancients screeching  ‘Wake Up’!

Close up detail Mad Gus

How I wish I’d seen it, sat upon the damp earth mesmerised, hypnotised by Mad Gus.

Close up detail Sojom

Welfare State described themselves as “dream-weavers, purveyors of images, sculptors of visual poetry, civic magicians and engineers of the imagination” (Radical Mayhem 1968-2006 Welfare State International and It’s Followers, Gillian Whiteley, 2008)

Ultimately they were risk takers, innovators and reconnectors through imaginative experience and ceremonial/ ritualistic relationship. They by-passed the mind and spoke straight to people’s souls.

In Uppendown Mooney the themes of disgust with human greed and destruction ring out loud and clear, Adrian Mitchell did not pull his punches. If we take Lord Claude, Mad Gus and Shjom to be visual representations of these words then Sally Ocean is the despairing, yet ever available, Mother Earth.

Close up detail Sally Ocean

I love that she’s having a toasted tea cake, it makes this quite extreme figure instantly relatable. She’s just like your Mum or Grandma, why control and destroy her? She’s our Earth.

This is 1978 and yet if anything these issues are even more relevant today.  Which leaves me with the question, where are our risk takers today?  People who have walked away from traditional structures in order to challenge them with such clarity and creativity.

Find out more about Welfare State International at MPA on our archive website.

Fiona Hornby

MPA Volunteer Archivist


























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