Conspiracy against strike leaders of building workers dramatised for the stage

… or a play about the Shrewsbury 2.
IMG_6342b0162h nottm arts theatre united we stand shrewsbury picket
A terrific education.
And, in patches, terrific entertainment.
Principles. Inspiration. Nostalgia.
Recommended, save there are only a few dates left and none local.

I come from Shrewsbury. And I’m kinda surprised that it’s the home of two high profile conspiracy stories – the killing of Hilda Murrell and the Shrewsbury 2 / 3 / 6 / 24 – both of which the subject of plays. DNA technology found the conspiracy theory around the murder was unfounded.

The authors of this play and the Shrewsbury 24 campaign are clear this was a conspiracy – to find striking construction workers guilty of conspiracy under a rarely used 1875 conspiracy law.
IMG_6339boc united we stand brian o carroll a0192h
The conspiracy charge runs thus – strike leaders associated with a picket on the Brookside estate in Telford New Town on 6th September 1972 were picked out for an investigation by police officers, after a national 10 week strike had been settled. Following a successful miners strike and the liberation of 5 jailed London dockers, the establishment – notably the Conservative gov’t and their party treasurer, McAlpine – wanted retribution. McAlpine whose family had provided the High Sheriff of nearby Denbighshire for 8 times in succession. McAlpine – the developer of the Brookside estate that became the focus of the court case.
The final parts of the first half of the play makes these points in a very entertaining way.
The final parts of the court case which makes up the second half are good too, although other exchanges are more confusing.
Singing segways the scenes – as the actors re-arrange the scenery. In the context of this story, some of the traditional songs are very powerful, although the acoustic version of The Sweet’s “Blockbuster” as background music for a video of the first years of the Edward Heath government was bewildering (yet terrific nostalgia).
The actors exhibited all the stage crafts, including fetching members of the audience still in the bar at the end of the interval (guilty m’lud).
As the Guardian review points out, the play has something to say whatever your politics – the use of leftist pathos is there but not as much as I might have expected.
It’s a fantastic reminder of the quality of grassroots activity of the early seventies – stuff I wish we had now. And of why the trade unions had to win on pay, terms & conditions and health & safety. “Kill, kill, kill the lump“. Well, the lump is back now in a different form – zero and low hours contracts – and we need to win again.
Whilst the Sweet song made me smile, I was not too happy with the use of the Strawbs song which at the time I saw as an anti-union song; (the wiki write up is conflicted; and I wonder if this production changes the words).
At the end of this performance, Terry Renshaw, the youngest of the Shrewsbury 24, gave a speech and explained that the court papers are withheld until at least 2021, although the Labour Party is committed to changing this if elected in May.
Terry said there were still health and safety issues in construction and the Nottingham tram expansion project had hit a problem when workers were required to pay a fee to get their wages.
This performance was staged at the Nottingham Arts Theatre in Hockley.

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One thought on “Conspiracy against strike leaders of building workers dramatised for the stage

  1. I wasn’t there last night, but I saw this play when it came to I think Chilwell last October as a fundraiser for my local Labour Party campaign in Broxtowe. I enjoyed it then, and from what you say in this post it sounds like it was good last night as well.

    I’ve seen Townsend Productions perform 2 Trade Union-related stories now, the other one being ‘We Will Be Free!’ about the Tulpuddel Martyrs, and I think they’ve done a good job with both.

    Lets have some more! I think people need constantly reminding about what’s at stake.

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