Rod’s Blog 03.09.13 - Red Ladder Theatre Company

Red Ladder Theatre Company

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Rod’s Blog 03.09.13

August for a high number of theatre makers means working stupid hours to share shows with other theatre makers in Edinburgh – most of whom have come up to Edinburgh from England to show their shows to …eachother.. I’m sorry to say this, but I hate the Fringe – it is a scrum, not a festival. Thanks to Unite the Union we have had a much more pleasant time touring the UK with Wrong ‘Un.

Me, Ella, our kids, sometimes Boff – and sometimes Charlie our stage manager – all playing travel games in the Red Ladder van. Please note, touring a one woman show with a tiny set that takes an hour to get in and half an hour to get out again is joyous – taking a four and seven year old with you makes it a bit more complicated – but still nowhere near as stressful as four weeks in Edinburgh!

As described in the last blog, Wrong ‘Un is a remarkable show. It has been designed to play in a wide variety of spaces – and after being given rapturous applause at the home gig of Hebden Bridge, Ella has gone on to perform as Annie Wilde in front of a really wide ranging audience – from all women at Women’s Week for Unite, to a pub audience, an old peoples’ home, American and Canadian members of the North American Steel Workers Union, union members at the political school at Durham Miner’s Gala and finally in the Rebel Soul tent at Shambala Festival. From Women’s Week onwards, every performance has been given a standing ovation. Twitter has been twittering with praise after each show and several people have described the performance as ‘extraordinary’ or deserving of an award. I don’t know where we’d enter this show for an award outside of Edinburgh but that’s not a good reason to take it there – so stop suggesting it!

Unite the Union have several large conference centres – Wrong ‘Un has played at the Eastbourne Centre twice – the first time for Women’s Week and then later in August for the Retired Members Summer School. On both occasions audiences have entered the hall slightly wearily. Unite summer schools seem to be hard graft – they’re not seaside jollies and the delegates work long days. Being marched in to watch a piece of theatre at the end of the day is not likely to be the delegates’ natural choice of evening relaxation. Ella’s performance in Wrong ‘Un always wins them over until there is rarely a dry eye in the house and, as I’ve said, they are all on their feet applauding and cheering. I am fascinated by this. Obviously the show works – the Lancashire lass just chatting to the audience and sharing jokes and then describing prison conditions and the torture of force-feeding really engages all ages. The fact that she bursts into song – unaccompanied – makes it even more of a rarefied experience.

The morning after the Durham performance I was asked to run a two hour workshop for 150 Unite members – mostly shop stewards or Education tutors. I decided to run a session about non-hierarchical organisation – essentially presenting the case against hierarchies. Surprisingly, the workshop went down very well considering the unions are rigidly hierarchical. They won’t notice the revolution has passed them by they’ll be so busy sitting in committees arguing about who should release the invoice to finance it.

Is it fear that makes organisations cling to hierarchy? I always love it at protests when the police saunter up to the anarchist section and ask, ‘Who’s in charge here?’

‘We all are,’ we reply. The face of the sergeant hardens slightly, ‘Ok – so who is in charge? Who is organising this?’

‘No-one is in charge, we are all in charge’

The face darkens and the breathing increases, ‘I shall have to remind you that under Section….’ And then I always stop listening.

The policeman in Wrong ‘Un quotes various sections at Annie Wilde and she befuddles him in the same way – 100 years later and the police still don’t ‘get it’. When we were in Esher the police pulled the van over, or at least they tried… the car overtook and flashed his lights, then he turned off right so I presumed he was just in a rush. Minutes later a very angry young police man was screaming at me ‘What part of ‘follow me’ did you not understand?’

‘All of it’ I replied – ‘I couldn’t see your ‘follow me’ sign in the glaring sunshine’

He was apoplectic with rage.

The fact that I was apparently not doing as he was telling me, threw him into a rage that could only be horror, and indeed terror, that I was ignoring the hierarchy of policeman and civilian. Don’t worry it was just a VOSI check on the Red Ladder van and it passed with flying colours (despite the row of rusty marks that look like machine gun bullet holes on one side of the body). Fear: it’s our biggest enemy and will always prevent true social change. The young cop was really afraid that in sleepy Surrey – county of BMW’s and 4X4’s that never see mud – here was a real dangerous brigand who was going to resist arrest. Maybe I shouldn’t have worn the pirate eye patch and put a dagger in my teeth when I spoke to him…

Anyway, I was delighted that at one point in my non-hierarchical workshop for Unite one of the younger members spoke up and said, ‘We should organise our branch meetings like this’ – I cheered inside very loudly. Just watch – the rigid hierarchy from Len McCluskey downwards will topple like a pack of badly balanced playing cards.

Or maybe not.