Fourteen Eighty-Five

When I think of an August long ago
Two armies on a marshy plain land field,
I see red and white majesty on show
A would-be king and one who would not yield
A battle royal to fight, kingdom to win
Ripping households dignity asunder,
Deaths between these kin normal, not a sin
Though all verity hidden in Stratford wonder.
Yet now buried deep within Leicester soil
The truth will out, no longer can be hid,
Twas a man who lost his mortal coil
Not a monster of just ambition bid;
When history’s victors through teeth lie
It is honesty, not just bodies that die.

First published October 2016 Welcome to Leicester anthology, Leicester, Dahlia Publishing

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What happened in Leicester on 2nd August 1914?

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On 2nd August 1914, members of the Independent Labour Party, some also members of Leicester Trades Council, held a public meeting in Leicester’s historic Market Place to express opposition to the conflict that would become the First World War. Two days later the British government took the nation into the world’s first major industrial-style conflict that was to kill millions on both sides.
On 2nd August 2014, Leicester and District Trades Union Council will stage an event close to the spot of that original protest of one hundred years ago to include amongst other things a recreation of the speeches given that day.

In Remembrance

A retrospective for the 100 year anniversary. I wrote this on 11 November 2013

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Drawn by our own curiosity,
Reluctant witnesses,
The re-run of a million tragedies
Made blind by red lapels in pale sunlight,
We smell the hypocrisy of
A school of clowns,
Whose headstands, armstands, arsestands matter not a jot.
We shall remember,
Not in the circus of cringing cant,
But in our own quiet way,
Seeking no corporate endorsement,
No patting on the back what a good chap calling,
But simply lost dreaming in lasting remembrance.

Speak the speech, I pray you…

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Photo copyright of Curve Theatre

The Beauty Queen of Leenane currently playing at Leicester’s Curve Theatre is not author, Martin McDonagh, best work, if you judge McDonagh by twists and turns and bloody surprise endings, such as in The Pillowman and The Lieutenant of Inishmore or his highly acclaimed screenplay, In Bruges. It is, nevertheless, very funny in parts, funny that it is if you can understand a bloody word the characters are saying.

As he did at Leicester’s Haymarket some years ago with Synge’s classic the Playboy Of The Western World, director Paul Kerryson (an Irishman himself) has tried to get his cast to speak it seems with authentic Connemara accents. Now to my non-Irish ear these accents did not sound authentic in the mouths of some of the cast (the wonderful Michele Moran as the ‘beauty queen’ excepted), but I am willing to be corrected on that.

But what was unquestionable was that on many occasions the desire for authenticity made what the character was saying unintelligible and at least this member of the audience was left trying to make sense of nonsensical babble.

How many times have I been told that unless your audience can hear the words and process them, you will lose their attention and struggle to get it back? It is a credit to McDonagh’s strong sense of plot that this production does get it back, but this should in no way excuse Kerryson’s lack of judgement. I can find no indication in the programme credits that he engaged a voice/dialect coach. Many companies, for instance the RSC, see such a resource integral to a production.

And with the mention of the RSC, it is perhaps apt that I end this short review by saying that Mr Kerryson and his cast should remember the often quoted but absolutely correct advice of Hamlet to the Players:

Speak the speech I pray you as I pronounced it to you,
trippingly on the tongue; but if you mouth it as many of your players
do, I had as lief the town-crier spoke my lines.

On accents and dialects – A Man of Humble Beginnings

AMOHB at VP

I’ve had a few queries about why I made Leicester-based characters use ‘thee’ and ‘thy’ etc. It would appear that a modern audience associates such words with northern (Yorkshire/Lancashire) dialects. One person asked me if it was because my director is from ‘up north!’

No, the choice was not John’s. It was entirely mine. Over the last forty years the Leicester dialect has changed. Yes, we still have ‘eh up, mi duck( (which actually is common to a great proportion of the East Midlands and not just Leicester), but we have been influenced by many international dialects and accents. So the ‘Leicester’ we speak today is very different to the ‘Leicester’ spoken in the times in which Amos Sherriff lived.

My research for the play showed that as little as ninety years ago, ‘thee’, ‘thy’ , ‘thine’ and ‘thou’ were in regular use in Leicester conversation and I do remember those of my grandparents generation (late nineteenth century) using these words – I was born late and my paternal grandmother lived to be ninety.

These words of course have biblical connections, but  I would like to think that perhaps there is another reason why they were common once upon time and that is because the traditional industries of Leicester were hosiery and boot and shoe making.  The raw materials for these trades were coming from the mills and other factories in the north and I think as we are now influenced by the sounds of the Indian sub-continent, the Caribbean and most recently Eastern Europe, we were in past times influenced by the dialects of Yorkshire, Lancashire and other places in the northern parts of England.

It is obviously my conjecture that this is why these words were once current, but from my research and my own knowledge I am satisfied that they were not so long ago used in this city and that they had a place in the play reflecting the times represented.

A review of A Man of Humble Beginnings

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The mainstream media (‘our so-called serious local newspapers [and local radio station]’) ignored the production last week; in spite of two releases. They obviously intend to continue the writing out of history of Amos Sherriff. They can try! We will continue to be little terriers snapping at their heels. Nevertheless, a friend of mine who uses the handle, Easy on the mayo sandwich boy, provided this small review, so many thanks to him.

AMOS SHERRIFF: PLAY TELLS A PIECE OF FORGOTTEN LEICESTER SOCIALIST HISTORY

A Man of Humble Beginnings charts the life of Leicester socialist, Amos Sherriff. Although originally written for four actors, it received its premiere as a one man show performed by its author, Tony Church, with recorded voices and photographs at the Upstairs at the Western theatre in the city on October 1st and 3rd.

The play appears to take place in the head of the dying character and uses his memories from the nineteenth to early twentieth century. During this time, Amos Sherriff learns as a young man to read and write (taught by a Salvation Army woman), leads an unemployed march of 400 men from Leicester to London and moves the motion to give Leicester its city status back.

Most poignantly, he reveals that brutal treatment of a fellow child worker (Amos started work in a brickworks when he was six) stirs the socialist conscience in him and makes him what he becomes, “Us ain’t meant to live like this.”

The production by Stage Left Theatre features a lectern at which Amos makes his public speeches and as it becomes clear that Amos sees little difference between his Christian and socialist views, this could also be representative of a pulpit.

Maybe the play should have had four actors, but Tony Church gives an enthralling performance as Amos Sherriff. There is immense power in the scenes with public speeches, but the Amos in private is also handled with aplomb. The development of Amos from what he describes as being from the gutter to accomplished working class politician is a credit to the writing and performance. The voices in his head work well and their pictorial representation adds to, rather than detracts from, this one man show.

Although the performances have only just ended, I hope that it is not long before the play is revived, as it is a good contribution to a small political theatre scene,

 

Reflection on A Man of Humble Beginnings

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Did the performances go well? I think so, but a performer really never knows because you have a different experience. You know the play (especially if you’ve written it), but the audience come to it new and what you have said over and over again, they hear for the first time. John, my director, was pleased overall and felt that the the voices and the portraits were a ‘magical experience’. He’s right; I’ve heard them so often and know the actors who provided them well, that I cannot conceive what the audience might.

The feedback was good, so that’s always positive and at least more people than before know that this man Amos Sherriff is responsible for the modern city of Leicester. The campaign to get this artisan (brickmaker and bicycle maker) who could not read or write until he was twenty-two, but achieved so much first in the Salvation Army and then in the Independent Labour Party goes on. We will get him the recognition that he deserves.

The after-show discussion was interesting and well-attended. There was quite a bit of participation from the floor; again this suggests the piece was well-received.

I probably worry too much, but this project has been an obsession for me since late 2010 and I always wanted the best for it. I hope that I got this, this week.