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Saturday, 17 August 2013 00:00

We Will Be Free

Arts
by Gordon Parsons

Assembly Rooms

Last year saw the triumphant two-man adaptation of The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists by Townsend Productions. Now Neil Gore, writer and performer in that show, here with Elizabeth Eves, moves from working-class fiction to working-class history.

We Will be Free tells the simple but powerfully moving story of the Tolpuddle Martyrs, the six agricultural Dorset labourers who in 1834 were sentenced to seven years transportation to Australia's Van Diemen's Land for "taking unlawful oaths" in their legally organised Friendly Society of Agricultural Labourers.

Whereas the Philanthropists show was built around a music hall approach, creating the Edwardian atmosphere of the novel's exploited urban building workers, Neil Gore uses the simple structure of the Mummers Play with its depiction of the battle between good and evil to shape this 19th-century rural tragedy and triumph.

Props and scenery are minimal - a few boxes and useful screens - but projected cartoons supply another dimension.

With the donning of yet another hat or coat, the two actors effortlessly sweep from character to character representing the oppressive powers of the establishment, land owner, magistrate, judge, constable and spy.

Audience members are called upon to supply the coerced members of a jury.

At the core, however, are George Loveless, the leader of the group, and his defiant wife Betsy - a relationship of mutual strength.

Binding this effectively simple production is the music. Both actors sing and play instruments and musical director John Kirkpatrick's employs the beautiful plaintive airs of folk music throughout.

Gore is a born comedian - recognising that laughter and tears are two sides of a coin brings an unexpected comic element to a sequence of events that offers little in the way of comedy.

Primarily this enormously entertaining show is designed to remind those with a knowledge of the history to introduce younger members of the audience to this foundation block in the epic struggles of workers through trade union organisation to fight for a better life and, above all. to emphasise the critical nature of that struggle today.

This production has a long, country-wide touring schedule of largely one-night stands ahead.

In Edinburgh the irony of playing in the great gilded ball room of the Assembly Hall could not have been lost on the company or some of the audience. Catch it wherever you can.

Runs until August 25. Tour information: www.townsendproductions.org.uk

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