We Are The Lions Mr. Manager returns to Tara Arts next week, after a long, well-supported tour all over the country, before it heads off to the Brighton Festival to conclude its run. Writer/Performer Neil Gore tells me that it’s been a palpably intensive but very rewarding run with audiences enthusiastically acclaiming the show despite the different responses from them in the actual play. Townsend Productions likes its audience to be fully immersed – audiences are really the third performer in the show which is a two-hander – and there can be a marked difference between immediate loud activist style responses and a more staid, slow-burning considered reaction, with demography perhaps playing its part. There is no doubt though that We Are The Lions… hits the spot with audiences up and down the country and is the latest in a string of politically themed successes by Gore and Townsend Productions.
I wondered why The Grunwick strike had been chosen as a subject: Gore says that it was quite a challenge to find a strong political subject that involved a female lead, something which both he and director Louise Townsend thought would be a good move after a couple of “blokey” plays – United We Stand (The Shrewsbury Three) and Dare Devil Rides to Jarama (Clem Becket and the Spanish Civil War). The inspirational Jayaben Desai fitted the bill precisely in her strength of personality and persistence in changing attitudes to immigrant workers and providing a tipping point where unions could fight back against state oppressors. Gore’s creativity in presenting stories comes to the fore as there was an immense amount of intricate detail that had to be sifted through but in my experience, Gore’s USP is separating the wheat from the chaff. The narrative is honed in the rehearsal process with director Louise Townsend and with input, in this case, from Medhavi Patel who is magnificent in the show as Jayaben Desai.
On the subject of whether having only two actors in his shows (who tend to be musicians, dancers and singers as well) is purely a financial consideration Gore says that originally it was because there were only two seats in the tour-van! There is no doubt, though, that he loves the repeated challenge of creating a full and varied set of characters with just two performers – and it’s certainly a formula for success. The very individual style of socialist-themed shows has been described as “Townsendesque”, a term of which Gore approves and thinks is appropriate. It’s my belief that the theatre is crying out for good, challenging political drama and Townsend Productions, in its own inimitable way, is trying to help fill that void.
So with the strong socialist theme who is Gore’s political hero? Tony Benn, he answers without hesitation. He keeps an anthology of his writings close and always refers to them as he creates his plays. And the next one is already on the horizon – a play about Mary McArthur who led the women chainmakers (3,500 of them!) of Cradley Heath on a strike for a minimum wage in – can you believe it – 1910.
It’s a subject I knew nothing about which is another element of Gore’s work – creating accurate (and fun) historical documents that can be used for reference and research by generations to come. Personally, I can’t wait to see this new show as it hits the road in February next year. But in the meantime do get down to Tara Arts in Wandsworth and catch We Are The Lions, Mr Manager.
By Peter Yates
Monday 7th May 2018
1 hour 45 plus 15 minute interval