Powerfully Exciting Theatre At Its Best

We Are the Lions: Mr Manager

Walker Theatre

Tuesday 31st October

Spellbinding and mesmerising are just two of the superlatives in the forefront of one’s mind as one offers up this critique of, Townsend Theatre Productions’ We are The Lions Mr Manager.

What could such a title mean? Well, It is lifted from a quote made by Jayaben Desai. Jayaben was the worker that George Ward of Grunwick Photo Processing Co.  probably wished he’d never met, as she stands up to the bullying tactics of “Mr. Manager.” And single handedly creates the biggest strike of the Nineteen Seventies. When she is told they are behaving like animals in a zoo Mrs. Desai explains, " there are many animals in the zoo and we are the Lions, Mr Manager." Its a brilliant piece of script!

As an immigrant into 1970’s Britain it was hard for an Asian to find work. When they did they were exploited and bullied. All until Mrs. Desai came along that is. She took on the management of Grunwick Photograph Printers. If you recall they were the developers who could send our photographs printed and catalogued by return of post. This was 1978/1979 and of course waiting in the wings to smash the Unions was The Iron Lady.

Like the gathering storm in 1939, Britain laid itself bare for the advent of Thatcherism and the capitalistic culture came along. George Ward the CEO of Grunwick had no idea what was hitting him as the workers demanded the fundamental right to Union representation. So it goes on, a fascinating story and one that needs telling today to remind people how badly things can go when a country is dissatisfied .

But this isn’t an historic polemic, you probably know the story so we will move on to look at the show proper: And what a great show it really is.

Built of speeches, folk songs of the day, black white video actuality and beautiful writing, on the part of Neil Gore, this is a show that has it all. Rather like the Brazilian Director Augusto Boal’s work, this was a hard hitting piece of agit-prop theatre telling a story that needs telling. After all history has a habit of being cyclical, telling these stories of hope and union may prevent the same from happening again. It’s up to the next generations to come to behave better than our ruling classes once did.  

A double hander with actors Madhavi Patel and Neil Gore covering a variety of parts.The show delights and inspires.  It stirs up a heap of conventions and skips happily between genres, demonstrating just exactly how powerful theatre can be.

Both actors were superb in their roles. Ms. Patel found that feisty firebrand nature so superbly; a character that spoke with clarity and eloquence about  the horrors of Empire and oppression. Mr. Gore lays on an exquisite number of parts  all played with such levels of commitment that this becomes a true masterclass in theatre and the powers it holds when used properly.

Everyone knows what came in 1979 and where that lead but people may be surprised to know that this incredibly embarrassing strike happened during Labour’s tenure and one is left wondering where was the socialist support when needed ? Worst still, how can one let it happened under a socialist government?  Callaghan was PM and this show proves there was no support from Parliament, consequently the battle was lost.

The set was a clever piece of kit. Deceptively simple looking, comprising around five of six flats, joined in a line. But it became the workroom of Grunwick, a picket line and even a screen for the black and white film that is shown along the way. So cleverly done.

It was also a treat for music lovers to see Shropshire’s own concertina wizard John Kirkpatrick had a hand in the musical directorship of the show, the music was crucial. The audience after being made into the striking masses sung out the choruses of many a song that would give The Red Flag a run for its money. Yet they suspended their own political beliefs to roar along.

Or did they?  One felt a feeling of oneness with all others; it was if the socialists had all come out together for a night out. Now if that were true and the audience were mostly socialist does agit-prop lose its relevance? Is it preaching to the converted? How would this show work at the Bank Of England’s Christmas Party?  That is a discussion for another day.

The discussion for today is this theatre company, Townsend Theatre. It is intelligent, sensitive, committed and powerful .  The company is and will remain to be a force to reckon with and it is fair to say they deserve the accolade of being the best at what they do. More of it please!

This is a Four Star Review

Owen J.Lewis

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Owen Lewis Owen Lewis

Owen Lewis was born fifty something years ago in the land of the black puddings. For the geographically challenged that is in Lancashire. Moving to Shropshire From 1970 Owen was brought up in Church Stretton. His first real job was in radio. After starting on BBC Radio Shropshire he became known on Marcher Sound, broadcasting throughout the North West for several years. After a university degree course in Theatre, Owen became an actor and went on to play "Pirate Bill" in The Alton Towers Hotel. He also made several television appearances. Returning to university he took his PGCE enabling him to teach. That saw him on the Essex coast as a drama teacher and latterly as a Creative Educational Liaison Officer making films and creating new teaching methods to employ on children in need of more help in their fundamental learning skills. Published playwright Owen ultimately wants a house boat in Amsterdam to focus on his work as Playwright and Poet.

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