Scratching the itch

Posted: June 6, 2017 in A Bit of Everything

Do you ever get those ideas that are like persistent itches? The ones that recur again and again and niggle at you until you do something about them?

Off West End Awards, Battle of Cable Street, Pleasance Theatre, Scratch Night, London Fringe Theatre, Holly Barbour, Olivia Meguer, Sophie Mckay, Charlotte Ive, East London History, For the many not the few, Oswald Mosley, Mitford Sisters, Diana Mitford, refugees, Labour PartyA few years ago, we came up with an idea for a show called What You Risk. I’d been studying street and public art and had discovered the mural commemorating The Battle of Cable Street. The battle took place in East London in 1936. Then just as now, the area was a melting pot of different nationalities and cultures. Some were immigrant workers, some had lived there for generations, some were refugees fleeing the growing threat in Europe. The politics and beliefs of the residents of Stepney, Bethnel Green, Wapping and beyond were diverse and profound. Then just as now, there were people in the country who were threatened by this. Sir Oswald Mosley was the leader of The British Union of Fascists, known as the Blackshirts for the eponymous uniforms they wore. In October 1936, amid a brewing sense of fear and alienation that was sweeping across Europe, Mosley sought to march his men through the East End as a show of strength for his idea of Nationalism. The concept of ‘Inciting Racial Hatred’ was non existent and Mosley perceived it as his right to freedom of speech. Consequently, he was protected by the police, they were to be present at the march to ensure ‘safe passage’ along the planned route. But the people of the East End was having none of it.

The Battle of Cable Street saw everyday people, from every walk of life, come out en masse and block the march. Barricades were made from household furniture, first aid stations were set up in local shops, the men and women who lived there came out, stood shoulder to shoulder with each other and united against fascism and hate-mongering politics.

Off West End Awards, Battle of Cable Street, Pleasance Theatre, Scratch Night, London Fringe Theatre, Holly Barbour, Olivia Meguer, Sophie Mckay, Charlotte Ive, East London History, For the many not the few, Oswald Mosley, Mitford Sisters, Diana Mitford, refugees, Labour PartyI relayed the idea to the rest of the company and we decided to find a way to tell the tale from a female perspective. Mosley was married to Diana Mitford, one of the Mitford sisters, a family of society ‘bright young things’, most of whom wrote prolifically about their opinions and experience. Diana herself kept quite extensive diaries and was an ardent supporter of Mosley’s politics – we felt this would be a fantastic way to tell the story from more than one political view point. We also want to represent the Jewish refugee population that Mosley felt were such a threat, as well as the Communist party members who were instrumental in organising the community to protest the march, so we explored first hand accounts from the day itself as well as finding the stories of what lead those people to live where they lived and do what they did.

At the time the idea definitely had legs, but for one reason or another, mainly to do with us all simultaneously being offered other things to do, we never really gave it the space to breath and grow and therefore it never became a full production. But the idea also never really went away.

So at the beginning of the year, when we were starting to think about what new projects we would like to explore, What You Risk seemed to bubble to the surface of our consciousness and offer an idea that really had something to say about the world we’re in now.

Off West End Awards, Battle of Cable Street, Pleasance Theatre, Scratch Night, London Fringe Theatre, Holly Barbour, Olivia Meguer, Sophie Mckay, Charlotte Ive, East London History, For the many not the few, Oswald Mosley, Mitford Sisters, Diana Mitford, refugees, Labour PartyEven in the four or so years since we first thought about making What You Risk, everything has changed so much. Even since the beginning of the year everything has changed so much. Even since the weekend. I don’t want to start making massive political comments, but one of the things that, for us, resonates so strongly with our idea for What You Risk, is the sense of unity that inspired the people of the East End to act. Those people made a decision about beliefs and politics. They decided that what defined them and those they considered comrades was not their country of birth, the colour of their skin or the race and religion they were born into. What united them was their humanity, their beliefs in the way they should live their lives, the way they should value those around them.

So now seems a hugely timely point to develop the production further and see what legs it really has. Off West End Awards, Battle of Cable Street, Pleasance Theatre, Scratch Night, London Fringe Theatre, Holly Barbour, Olivia Meguer, Sophie Mckay, Charlotte Ive, East London History, For the many not the few, Oswald Mosley, Mitford Sisters, Diana Mitford, refugees, Labour PartyWonderfully, the Pleasance Theatre Islington has chosen to include us in it’s upcoming scratch night on 20th June. Having met the producer of the night, we’re feeling very much supported in being able to get a little bit of the idea out there, let it run around for a bit and get some feedback, all in the knowledge that if something doesn’t work, we will be in a safe space to find that out. Which is a fantastic opportunity for us – now more than ever, What You Risk feels like the sort of work we should be making and making well. We don’t want to just hash something together in a few months and hope for the best. The reasons that the Battle of Cable Street happened are imbedded into the world we live in now. We want to make a piece that does justice to that, that asks the right questions and also shows a hugely inspiring, positive moment in history, where the voices of the people didn’t just rise but soared and showed that love really can conquer hate. Finding a working process where we can test, then maybe rework, then test again, seems to be the most fruitful and the best way for us to make sure what we do eventually make has been thoroughly thought through, thoroughly investigated, both as ideas and as a production and in its final form, will be the truest reflection of our vision.Off West End Awards, Battle of Cable Street, Pleasance Theatre, Scratch Night, London Fringe Theatre, Holly Barbour, Olivia Meguer, Sophie Mckay, Charlotte Ive, East London History, For the many not the few, Oswald Mosley, Mitford Sisters, Diana Mitford, refugees, Labour Party

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