Reviewer: Richard Hall
Broadcaster and journalist, Stuart Maconie is familiar to many from his appearances on radio and TV, especially the afternoon show that he hosts on BBC 6music with Mark Radcliffe. As a writer, Maconie has enjoyed critical and popular success with his series of bestselling travel books including the fabulously titled, Cider with Roadies and Pies and Prejudice. For his latest book, Long Road from Jarrow, inspired by the Jarrow Crusade of 1936 which saw over two hundred men from the Tyneside town march to London to protest against mass unemployment, Maconie retraced their exact route walking over three hundred miles to do so.
Programmed to coincide with the publication of the book, the solo show at The Lowry provides the perfect opportunity to discover what motivated Maconie to undertake the gruelling walk and also listen to his captivating, entertaining and often humorous descriptions of the places he visited and the people he met. Maconie is wonderful at recounting these encounters such as when a kebab shop owner in Bedford confused a picture of Shakespeare on his tote bag for Hitler and a pianist at a recital in Leeds outed him in public for being a fan of The Chuckle Brothers.
Whilst talking about the journey that took both him and the Jarrow Crusade through England’s former industrial heartland and middle England, Maconie displays his trademark wit and self-deprecating humour. He offers a fascinating portrait of England both as it was in the time of the Jarrow Crusade and also as it is today. Not surprisingly it is easy for Maconie to make relatively easy comparisons between modern times and the 1930s, sadly there is nothing new about austerity and the north/south divide. His observations are well informed and insightful, such as those passed onto him by an Albanian plumber he met in a pub in Bedford who couldn’t understand why the English struggle to appreciate what they have and are afraid of foreigners taking their jobs and livelihoods, interestingly many of the places he visited, especially in the North voted for Brexit.
When asked by a member of the audience if the Jarrow Crusade fulfilled its purpose Maconie is frank and somewhat pessimistic, explaining that the setting up of the Welfare State in the aftermath of the Second World War can be attributed in part to the hunger march of 1936 but what the marchers set out to achieve has still to be fully realised and in the case of the NHS, which came many years after is in real danger of collapse. Like many of the audience who were both charmed and inspired by Maconie, this reviewer for one will be obtaining a copy of Long Road from Jarrow and in print at least will be joining him in his epic walk to honour one of the most significant moments in English social history.
Reviewed on 18 January 2018 | Image: Contributed