Friday, 6 November 2015

Review of 'UNITED WE STAND' play

AMAZING ★★★★ REVIEW LONDON THEATRE 1 - 'UNITED WE STAND'‏ The story of Des Warren, Ricky Tomlinson & The Shrewsbury Pickets ON NOW at THE BUSSEY BUILDING, PECKHAM until 14 NOV.
AMAZING ★★★★ REVIEW from LONDON THEATRE 1 - 'UNITED WE STAND'‏ The story of Des Warren, Ricky Tomlinson & The Shrewsbury Pickets ON NOW AT THE BUSSEY BUILDING, PECKHAM
United We Stand at CLF Theatre Peckham
November 3, 2015 By Peter Yates
Williams Fox and Neil Gore in United We Stand
From L-R Williams Fox and Neil Gore in United We Stand – Photo by Amy Yardley
MORIBUND politics: with the Tories courting unpopularity virtually unopposed, the Liberal Democrats finding that downsizing principles means downsizing their Parliamentary footprint and the Labour Party apparently intent on devouring its own entrails in some kind of Corbynastic sacrifice, it is very good for soul and sanity to discover that Political Theatre is alive and kicking and energising audiences in Peckham.
Louise Townsend’s sparky, edgy and intelligently reflective production is the kind of theatre that political activists crave and wider audiences need. In essence United We Stand is, like Journey’s End, a historical document that I’m certain will be referenced down the ages. Performed with remarkable gusto by just its writer, Neil Gore, and fellow performer, William Fox, the pair take on a myriad of roles in re-creating the story, making this a
spectacular Two de Force.
The original Shrewsbury 24 became, in 1973, the Shrewsbury Three when John McKinsie Jones, Des Warren and one Eric (AKA Ricky) Tomlinson were jailed under the 1875 act (yes, that old standby) for “conspiracy”. It is great credit to the show that it resists all temptation to play on Ricky’s subsequent fame and the words “Brookside” and “Royle Family” are never mentioned.
The “conspiracy” was that the Three organised strikes and flying pickets in a building industry dispute against “the Lump” – the way casual builders were paid with a lump sum – a system that was universally seen as unfair and a way to keep wages down to a minimum. The fact that the dispute had been settled and work had resumed on all building sites for five months before conspiracy charges were brought with the Shrewsbury Three dragged into court and jailed, leads to the suspicion that the real conspiracy was between the powerful building lobby, the government and the police. This is a point made effectively by the show which incorporates music, puppets, pantomime, projection, a TV game-show format and fast costume changes in developing its theme: this is Agit Prop theatre at its most agitated, at its most uncompromising.
To do this as effectively as the Townsend Productions show does you need accomplished and highly effective performers. The modern phenomenon is that actors are not just actors but need to be singers, dancers and good musicians as well. Gore and Fox played their guitars, ukuleles, snares, cymbals and that good old Ringo Starr standby – the packing case – as second nature. Musical Director John Kirkpatrick of Steeleye Span fame provided a hard-folk edge with new (to me) songs and a rousing rendition of that seminal Strawbs classic Part of the Union which had the whole audience foot-stomping and singing along.
The interwoven musical thread of the piece added a Brechtian flavour to the vibrant political drama. But the comparison ended there: far from wishing to alienate the audience Townsend and her cast wanted to draw the audience in, use us as part of the action, get us to be workers at a union meeting reacting to the latest diktats of the oppressive construction industry bosses: this was Ultimate Audience Participation exemplified by the reaction of Len McClusckey, next to whom I was seated, who instinctively and loudly exclaimed “Sell out!” when a mealy-mouthed Union convenor refused to wholeheartedly back the pickets’ actions. A contemporary Union Boss shouting at a dramatic representation of an authentic historical figure? This was Metatheatre writ large and full testament to the power of this extraordinary production.
Fox’s constant dialogue with the audience, in asides, ad-libs, jokes and unscripted commentary also helped us to feel we were “there”. “We hate the police” he intoned, hurriedly adding “unless there are any in”. Followed by: “We hate the press – and we don’t care if you’re in”.
The show is fully supported by the Shrewsbury 24 Campaign which is still actively demanding justice 42 years on. The most remarkable fact to come out of the evening is that there are still documents of interest being withheld by successive governments – yes, including, as Mr McCluskey acerbically pointed out after the show – 13 years of a Labour government, despite the fact that the 30 year rule has passed. The reason? National Security.
This powerful drama might, perhaps, remind Theresa May that her government promised to be the most transparent UK government ever.
4 stars
Information:T. 020 7732 5275 E: The CLF Art Cafe Block A, Bussey Building, 133 Rye Lane, Peckham, SE15 4ST.

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