Writer: Neil Gore
Director: Louise Townsend
Townsend Productions are unique in mounting productions that tour widely and offer a firmly left-wing perspective whilst remaining thoroughly entertaining. This time it’s the Upper Clyde Shipbuilders that get the Townsend treatment – and it seems to this reviewer that the production has a spot more gloss than usual!
The story of the UCS work-in is told through the eyes of two young women: Aggie McGraw, silly, prepared for a fight where justice in involved, learning about left-wing politics through the work-in, and Eddy Edson, more sophisticated, with art school in the background as a possible alternative to life in the drawing office. The trajectory of their relationship operates in tandem with the story of the work-in. Much of the story is told in soliloquy, much through song.
The animations of Scarlett Rickard and Jonny Halifax provide a suitable background to much of the action of the first half: rolling countryside and invading troops in a brief history of the Scots people, workers at UCS toiling on ships in a telling homage to Soviet propaganda pics. And what are Aggie and Eddy up to meanwhile? Singing and playing a couple of songs written by Neil Gore and musical director Beth Porter for this production – it is a stunning start to the evening!
Then the action begins with Aggie: knockabout comical scenes at her first two work places after leaving school before she ends up at Govan shipyard – still comical, with Eddy’s first appearance, very cool, perpetually smoking, keeping up the humorous tone. From then on it gets serious: the closure of UCS looms and Ewan McColl’s great song Ship of State takes us into the interval.
In Louise Townsend’s ever-economical production Heather Gourdie (Eddy) and Janie Thomson (Aggie), splendidly energetic in what are very near to their professional debuts, make a terrific impression. Thomson, in particular, her face registering every shift of emotion, is wonderful: the character is so delighted about what the work-in brings that it comes as a shock to find her addressing a mass meeting at Tate and Lyle, Liverpool, or looking back on 1972 from the viewpoint of 1984. The Tories haven’t changed, she explains, and they haven’t forgotten.
Gourdie has a less flamboyant part, but one she carries through with skill. Initially confined to poetic reconstructions of life on the Clyde, she builds her character tellingly and makes her mark with a beautifully played scene around her father’s portrait.
Neil Gore fashions his play around such set pieces and places the songs – ranging from Jimmy Macgregor to Nazareth – with knowing precision. And just for one night, the ladies of the Sheffield Socialist Choir showed up at the charmingly atmospheric Lantern Theatre to sing two songs at the end of the evening and leave this reviewer wondering, “Does it get any better?”