United We Stand
A new play by Neil Gore
The CLF Art Café,
The Bussey Building,
133 Rye Lane,
Runs: 2hr 15 mins with interval: 26 – 29 November
And further tour dates
Reviewed by Carole Woddis of performance seen Nov 28, 2014:
Rough and ready immediacy – with the whiff of injustice
For most people, Ricky Tomlinson is best known as a much loved star of The Royle Family and Brookside. But in earlier times Tomlinson worked in the construction industry. In the early 1970s, he was at the centre of a strike which used the practise of `flying pickets’. In 1973, Tomlinson along with Des Warren and others were arrested and charged with conspiracy to intimidate and affray in what became known as the case of The Shrewsbury 24. Tomlinson and Warren were sent to jail.
Over 40 years on, an official Shrewsbury 24 Campaign is under way to have the convictions over-turned. An appeal has been made to the Criminal Cases Review Commission to have the case re-examined and government documents, still being withheld, released.
Which is where United We Stand comes in, a labour of love and as splendid a piece of theatrical agit-prop since its heyday in the heady days of the 1960s, ‘70s, and ‘80s. It’s good to welcome it back, particularly as presented by Gore and his colleague, William Fox. Energetic, passionate, engaged and rich in satire, it’s a reminder of how well theatre can be used in a good cause and of the best origins of trade unionism for all its sometimes excesses.
Gore, who bears a passing resemblance to Tomlinson and the thin-as-a-reed Fox are both fantastic musical performers as well as actors, ably conveying the emotion and outrage in the folk and trade union songs arranged by the show’s musical director John Kirkpatrick (famously of Steeleye Span, Albion Band and others) which carry us to the heart of the human and political issues.
If initially bewildering in its pace and delineation of characters – Trade unionists, strikers, building employers, MPs – Louise Townsend’s production nonetheless revels in its rough and ready format – video clips projected onto canvas, a bevy of hats and jackets adorned then discarded and a knockabout vaudevillian edge that brings out the best in its audience, too.
By the end, with the judge’s summing up, you can’t but feel the sting of injustice and lyrics, written for other circumstances, which speak of exploitation of the many by the few.
United We Stand
By Neil Gore
Director: Louise Townsend
Musical Director: John Kirkpatrick
Designer: Amy Yardley
Lighting Design/Photography: Brian O’Carroll
Video: Conduit Productions
Visuals for the exhibition: Jo Barber
Exhibition Researcher/Writer: Jo Brain
Producer: Louise Townsend
Presented by Townsend Productions in association with the official Shrewsbury 24 Campaign, Harrogate Theatre and Leighton Buzzard Library Theatre
Performances at The Bussey Building, Peckham, London, Nov 26-29, 2014
For further tour dates, see www.townsendproduction.org.uk