Chain Makers Forge Links To Industrial Action

Townsend Theatre Prodctions Present,

Rouse Ye Women

Walker Theatre

31/March/2019

 

One is always pleased to be able to welcome a theatre company to The Walker Theatre that has triumphed there previously. Townsend Theatre Productions have not only triumphed once but twice already with “The Ragged Trousered Philanthropist” and “We are Lions Mr. Mananger," both tremendously received. So now with their third work about the Chain Makers’ Strike in Cradley Heath back in the early part of the 20th Century, they return and we are all hopeful.

Stirred on by firebrand and early trade’s unionist Mary Mac.Arthur, Rouse ye Women, is a folk opera that lays out the foul conditions female chain makers endured going about their daily business in the Black Country.

Written by Neil Gore and songs/music by Shropshire’s own Folk Hero, John Kirkpatrick this always promised to be a great show. Towsend Theatre Productions deal on their promises. This is a great bit of theatre dealing with an embarrassing part in our history when the profiteers grew fat on the backs of the broken and frightened workers. All that changed when Mary MacArthur came to Cradley Heath and for only the second time in history like the Match Girls before them, she led the female chain makers into strike action, and she won for them fair pay and she killed of other foul practices that company owners and the middle men grew fat on.

One attended expecting a great piece of agit-prop theatre and it was just that and so so much more. We smile wryly now at the lot of the workers back then and the owners slippery ways but in truth with a performance like this one is left asking, does this still go on? When one reads about the inequality in pay between genders one is sometimes sobered to realise it does. That is why this sort of theatre is so important for the development and furtherance of society. If we don’t know where we come from we won’t know where we should go. Mary MacArthur and her likes really did plant the seeds for a better fairer Britain.

So, relevant? You ask. Yes it is social change and reform comes from awareness, avoiding mistakes of the past for a brighter future and all that. So not only relevant but crucial.

With the combination of the poetry of Mr. Gore and the accessible lyrics of Mr. Kirkpatrick; this is a show with a little bit of everything for everyone. Never once losing site of the controlling idea the show romps along beautifully as the audience lose their inhibitions and start to tap, hum and eventually sing along. There is clever usage of this crowd mentality when the theatre audience identified strongly with the attenders of a union meeting and started shouting yes and no to the questions the workers would heve done all those years ago. That was clever and discrete.

But the story is still being told. This show is only a three hander and yet watching it one imagines the cast far larger. That is down to the differences between the characters and the playing thereof but it takes a great cast to do it well. This is a great cast.

Rowan Godel’s “Bird,” was beautifully observed. She played the character impeccably including accent, dialect and innocence the women had back then. One warms to this heroine early on and Ms. Godel’s playing is a delight. Her singing is also so effortless yet thoughtful. Enchanting.

When Bryony Purdue appeared as the incredibly skilful Mary Mac.Arthur, one is almost immediately transfixed by her beautiful singing voice. Like chocolate melting over a rich creamy dairy ice cream there is lusciousness that just makes you want more. Her East Coast of Scotland roots make her so listenable to, so warm and rich. She also found in her portrayal of Mary a wonderful balance of firmness and empathy, firm to the bosses and empathetic to the female workers.

Given the rigidity of the factory owners back in Edwardian times it would take someone very special to stand up against them. In this portrayal Ms. Purdue found a wealthy seam of that tenacity and it came across beautifully. We all wanted victory.

Neil Gore who not only wrote the dialogue, but appeared as the middle man and the Chain Making big wig, when he wasn’t doing that he was playing strings; guitar, ukelele and mandolin, he also kept great time with a Cajon with foot pedal and provided some beautifully played characters. His body movement and gestures all crucial to his roles delivered excellently beyond all doubt. Long may his name be sung for this tremendous piece of work I extend that to John Kirkpatrick: between them they have delivered a totally top show, historically fascinating and musically bewitching.

The design of the set was incredibly clever. Everything did something and the little cottage where the action took place was a very clever design enabling so much with so little. It was a treat of design and great to see the set working. The lighting, sound was beautifully designed and operated and even the little bits of film shown on the sheets on a washing line added so much; genius. Very clever design all round.

When one sees history being portrayed this way one realises that for years the teaching of it has been so wrong. Theatre in this instance gives tonnes more than a chalky old text book could ever do. Long live this style of theatre and long live those who excel at it. One expects a very long life for Townsend. Great work!

This is a Five 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. Follow hos blogspot at https://owenscribblerlewis.blogspot.com

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