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“DARE Devil Rides to Jarama is quite simply the best political theatre produced for a long, long time,” I wrote when it premiered a few years ago.
Now this remarkable tale of two most unusual British volunteers in the Spanish civil war is getting a new lease of life as a podcast from Townsend Productions.
Directed by Louise Townsend, the play tells the story of Wall of Death motorcyclist Clem “Dare Devil” Beckett and Marxist writer and poet Christopher Caudwell, played by writer and performer Neil Gore and David Heywood.
Unlikely friends and comrades, they shared a determination to defend the Spanish republic against Franco fascism and were volunteers for the International Brigade. Both died in February 1937 at the machine-gun post they shared on the first day of the momentous Battle of Jarama.
Yorkshireman Clem Beckett, played by Heywood, was a speedway champion who founded a trade union for dirt-track riders and found fame riding the Wall of Death all across Europe.
He was also an active Young Communist League and then Communist Party member, playing his part in many great working-class battles like the hunger marches, the Kinder Trespass and the fight against leader of the British Union of Fascists Oswald Mosley.
Christopher St John Sprigg, another Communist Party member, chose to write his Marxist philosophy, literary criticism and exceptional poetry under the pen name Christopher Caudwell.
Like Beckett, he had an interest in engineering. An aeronautical expert, he started his own aircraft magazine and, as the play demonstrates, this shared interest in things mechanical brought the two men together in Spain training volunteers on WWI machine guns.
Heywood is a convincingly revolutionary Beckett while Gore brings alive characters as diverse as Caudwell, Harry Pollitt, Oswald Mosley and even George Formby.
Dare Devil also tells a wider story of the 2,500 British and Irish volunteer heroes who took up arms to stop Franco and his fascist allies in their armed rehearsal for Hitler and Mussolini’s evil plans to dominate Europe.
Powerful storytelling helps bring alive the raw passion and idealism that characterised the heroic actions of so many of the International Brigade volunteers, 500 of whom laid down their lives in the civil war.
Released as a four-part play, downloads cost £6 for the whole audio play or £2 per episode. You can subscribe and get the podcast and CD of songs for £12 at townsendtheatreproductions.bandcamp.com
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