James Haddrell speaks on the challenges in political theatre

Anyone who followed the programme at Greenwich Theatre before the pandemic will know that political theatre has been close to my heart for a long time.

Whether you like your politics with a capital P or prefer a lower case view of the way our society works (or doesn’t work), theatre has the power to challenge, to reinforce, to celebrate or to confront that – and that power has never been more important.

James Haddrell, artistic and executive director of Greenwich Theatre

At the moment I am half way through rehearsals for a new production of Chris Bush’s Faustus: That Damned Woman with final year drama students at St Mary’s University in Twickenham (playing as part of a festival from March 29 – April 8).

The play reimagines the story of a man who exchanges his soul for a limited period of near infinite power.

In this version, Faustus is a woman whose mother has been executed as a suspected witch, and who signs her soul over to the devil in order to discover the truth about what really happened.

The play sees Faustus wrestle with the power she has been given before travelling through time, meeting some of the women who fought the system to achieve success, from the first qualified female doctor Elizabeth Garrett to Nobel Prize winner Marie Curie.

The play is an angry cry against inequality, against the danger of propaganda, and about the frustration of living in a world where injustice and inequality persist despite every effort of feminists over the centuries.

The students have been working incredibly well with the play, both with the text itself and with the issues that have continued to arise in rehearsals, and the finished production looks like being a powerful wake up call for audiences who have been lulled into a false sense that equality has been achieved.

Meanwhile, at Greenwich Theatre, we are preparing to present Millie Gaston’s Shake The City about the 1970 clothworkers strike.

The now largely forgotten protest saw textile workers in Leeds begin an unofficial strike in support of their demand for a shilling an hour
pay increase.

The strike snowballed, with workers attracting further support as they marched from clothing factory to clothing factory – until more than 20,000 people were involved, the majority of them women.

Gaston’s play follows the fortunes of four imagined characters at the heart of the strike, working in a factory and striving to be heard by the
factory management.

Half a century on from the strike, Gaston has been well supported in bringing her story to the stage.

Musical supervision comes from Olivier Award nominee Joe Beighton who has infused the play with Northern Soul classics, and design from Caitlin Mawhinney (winner of the Evening Standard X Tik Tok Future Theatre Fund).

Shake The City plays from April 26-28 and is just one of the shows that transferred to Greenwich from the cancelled Vault Festival, with additional dates for Impromptu Shakespeare also scheduled for April.


Pictured: Greenwich Theatre

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