Theatre Review: ‘England Arise’
Written by Mick Martin. Directed by Jude Wright. Performed by “Bent Architect.”
One of the delights of the Art Scene in a town well away from a city is that you can appreciate a play without any of the distractions of celebrity culture on or off the stage. The play is what you get – pure and unvarnished.
This visit is the anniversary of the opening of Doncaster’s new theatre CAST. Something significant is happening in this part of South Yorkshire and the theatre is beginning to grow audiences in a town where Art and Drama is often thought to be ’Not for people like us’. This is due in no small measure to CAST’s Kully Thiarai’s varied and imaginative programming. This is coupled, as in this production, with a mission to challenge the audiences.
This magnificent production, was challengingly programmed in Armistice week, a time of conflicting emotions, even for socialists.
The play immediately avoids the trap of most agit-prop theatre, that of being strident with a developed hectoring tone directed at the audience. The cast, like in a Peter Brook play, have limited scenery and props. They use their acting skills which includes movement and musical ability.
The political and emotional lessons evolve through a well balanced script. The story is set in the run up to the Great War, and features two young men and two young women of the Clarion Socialist Sunday School in Huddersfield. The play illustrates their artistic and revolutionary activities. The play is inspired by the book. Comrades in Conscience by Cyril Pearce. It also draws on Jill Liddington’s Rebel Girls. Set in Huddersfield, it uses first hand source material.
We are introduced to the Players by the Company. This draws us immediately into the drama. The emergence of the key element of Conscientious Objection emerges slowly and powerfully through the story line. This comprises the programme of plays, love affairs and all those elements that make up young people’s lives everywhere. This gives greater potency to the inherent political messages that are conveyed. They flow from the story and do not develop into a harangue.
The sheer joy of living is disrupted and perverted by changing attitudes to the war by the establishment .Volunteerism is no longer sufficient to fulfil the growing demands of this costly and brutal conflict. This impacts on all the four young people featured in this drama, the men being tortured in solitary confinement.
The following is also part of this tableau and impacts on the cast: the suffragette movement with its contradictions and splits, the compromises that political life demands of marriage, parental criticism, and, disappointingly the solace former revolutionaries find within bourgeois political parties.
No easy answers are provided by the play. However we as the audience are left to examine the dilemmas faced by these brave young revolutionaries. As we leave the theatre we need to examine what the lessons are for us to learn and influence our lives and the socialist future.
The important thing is to see this play – this is real theatre and not Shaftesbury Avenue shenanigans.