Monday, 24 June 2013

WE will be FREE

Playwright and actor Neil Gore is no fool. Realising how busy most critics will be, he moved beyond the typical press release and sent out a series of questions and answer sessions. I am impressed by the way he did it: the questions he answered are precisely the ones that I would have asked about his production We Will Be Free!

Apart from the ones I would have asked to get him to say how lovely Dorset is, and how Marxism has blighted the leftist revolutionary tradition, of course.

Set in 1834, WE WILL BE FREE! follows the extraordinary story of George and Betsy Loveless. He was a Methodist minister and the leader of the six Dorset farm labourers who were tried, convicted and condemned to harsh transportation by an oppressive Government for having the temerity to swear a secret oath and form a secret union to fight against a succession of wage cuts inflicted by the local landowner.

As this fast and furious story that defined the emergence of Trades Unionism and Chartism unravels, we see how the arch tyrant-in-chief James Frampton, local squire and magistrate springs the trap, how Lord Melbourne, Home Secretary delights in ordering dodgy legal proceedings, how labourer Edward Legg betrays the Martyrs and how the judiciary revel in the use of his evidence to condemn the Martyrs to imprisonment and transportation to Australia. 

We see too the anguish of their families and the subsequent howl of protest and the battle for their reprieve. Through it all we see how events affected the lives and relationship of George and Betsy and how it strengthened their religious and political resolve. Through following Betsy in particular, we see how the world is opened up to her and how she becomes politicised by the events and how she joins the fight to bring back her husband from transportation and participates in the beginnings of the fledgling Labour movement.

WHY STAGE THE PLAY AS A TWO-HANDER?Turning the epic story of the Tolpuddle Martyrs into a successful play for two has been immensely challenging and very rewarding. Like our first production of THE RAGGED TROUSERED PHILANTHROPISTS, it’s a bright combination of action and storytelling, using as many different theatrical devices as possible to surprise and keep the audience on their toes.

It being a two-hander has given us the adaptability and flexibility to enable us to reach a huge audience cross-section by playing vastly different venues, from major Regional Main-house Theatres or their Studio spaces, to Arts Centres or Village Halls and Community Centres, as well as Labour and Working Men's Clubs.

In a way, making the show a two-hander means that many restrictions are actually lifted. By its very nature the production becomes altogether a more theatrical event. It can’t be a version of the story that includes every character and incident around the Martyrs' story, so we have focused on the main characters of George and Betsy Loveless, the main protagonists and the major incidents of the story - so corners are not so much cut, as embellished in a theatrical way. 

 It means too that our resourses are channelled into making the production values of our work as good as possible so that the theatrical experience for the audience is all-round: acting, set, lighting, theatrical trickery and design and music all contribute to a 'Good Night Out.'

WHAT CAN AN AUDIENCE EXPECT FROM THE PRODUCTION? Building on Towns End Productions' entertaining theatrical style, packed with surprises, that was developed through our first production, The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists, we will tell this vitally important story using live music, powerful songs of the time with political cartoon, animation and puppetry. The actors will play all the characters and perform at break-neck pace to present this story that resonates with modern relevance, raising questions about present day political issues through the experiences of the past.

HOW RELEVANT IS THE PLAY FOR TODAY?The play serves as a reminder of the key issues faced by workers and people of the country today: increased casualisation of the workforce, diminishing rights at work, individual contracts that ignore pensions and overtime, frozen or reduced wages, cuts to public services, wilful destruction of the welfare system and the hopelessness of poverty. 

The union Unite are at the forefront of raising awareness of these issues using education and theatre as a means of stirring people into action and challenging the inequalities that workers face, particularly agricultural workers now that the Agricultural Workers Board, that monitored and set wages and working conditions for farm workers, has recently been abolished by the ConDem Coalition Government.

The play serves as a reminder of times when people joining together to argue their cause for equality and justice had a tremendous impact despite not having the ability to vote in a democratic election. It reveals the beginnings of a politicisation of the mass of working people, rights that were fought for, and that we should make sure we do not lose.

HOW INVOLVED HAVE THE UNIONS BEEN IN THE PRODUCTION? The Tolpuddle Martyrs' story is the most important for the Trade Union movement and most of the unions have been extremely supportive of the production and have offered their support through small donations to enable us to build the set, get the costumes and so on and also tour and promote the show around the country. We will perform the show at some union conferences and at the TUC Conference this year and the prestigious Tolpuddle Festival.

WHO IS THE PLAY AIMED AT? The play is aimed really at anybody who likes the book, or is interested in politics or social history, or anybody who loves theatre, as it is a very theatrical storytelling experience. We have tried to make the show as accessible as possible to all, so really there is something in it for everyone.

WE WILL BE FREE LISTING DETAILSThe Ballroom, Assembly Rooms, 54 George Street, Edinburgh
Time: 12.30pm Running Time: 80mins
Dates: 02-25 August. Previews: 2-3 August. No show Sun 12 August.
Tickets: 2-3 Aug £14 (£11 concessions/ £5.00 unwaged), 4-25 Aug £15(£12 concessions £5 unwaged)

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