Writer: Neil Gore
Musical Director: John Kirkpatrick
Director: Louise Townsend
Reviewer: Sue Collier
Louise Townsend’s Production of United We Stand is a two act play offering a highly entertaining account of the 1972 National Building Strike. The strike aimed to improve pay and safety conditions for those working in the building industry at a time when many builders died as a result of negligent working conditions. Actor Ricky Tomlinson (then a plasterer), was one of the leading ‘flying pickets’ who travelled around building sites seeking to persuade the daily paid casual workers “The Lumpers” to stop undermining union membership and lay down their tools.
United We Stand’s thought provoking tale of miscarriage of justice is presented via a variety of entertaining theatrical styles including film, comedy, puppetry and popular political songs directed by John Kirkpatrick. We are reintroduced to the power of the unions in 1972, and the time when striking miners and Dockers had forced an anxious Tory government to call two states of emergency, and the Prime Minister Edward Heath was determined to stop the Flying Pickets.
On 6th September 1972, hundreds of flying pickets (including Tomlinson), visited building sites around Shrewsbury (accompanied by the Police who made no arrests that day). Yet months later, 24 men were charged with offences including conspiracy to intimidate and affray. Of those found guilty, Ricky Tomlinson received a two year prison sentence and picket leader Des Warren was jailed for three years. This production takes the position that the Government, the building magnates, the police and the judiciary had conspired to make an example of the flying pickets, in order to save a building industry which was failing as a result of the strike.
Actor William Fox and Actor/Writer Neil Gore energetically and successfully engage their audience, warming up the audience prior to the performance,as well asoperating the lighting, film and scenery. Playing the rôles of Des Warren and Ricky Tomlinson, they alsorepresent a huge range of other characters. The show starts well with their song ‘The Lump’, accompanied on ukulele, and the duo’s vocals and talents with a wide range of musical instruments is excellent throughout.
The use of audience participation is enormously creative, with invitations to sing along and respond as members of the union (a risk requiring skilled management when one member of the audience called for an all-out strike!).
What is particularly clever about this production, is how warm humour is used to make very powerful points, for example, when Tomlinson states “I wouldn’t normally say this ‘cos I’m a Liverpool fan, but we need to be united”. The depiction of Hughie Green presenting the power of the building magnates within an episode of Opportunity Knocks is fabulously hilarious and has the audience in stitches.
During the interval, Fox and Gore remain on stage in preparation for Act Two, and post-performance on this occasion they engaged in a Q&A session with their audience. It really was “their audience”, as those observing were highly delighted giving an energetic response of loud cheers and much stamping of appreciation at the play’s conclusion.
One minor drawback is that the screen used to show the film, was small and hard to view that it would have benefitted from being bigger. Nevertheless, this is only a minor point and United We Stand is highly recommended.
Reviewed on: 25th October 2014