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Theatre Review Powerful drama of 1930s Irish family at war in an East End threatened by fascism

Mosley Must Fall
The Lion and Unicorn, London

MARTIN McNAMARA’S Mosley Must Fall is a gem. Playing at the Lion and Unicorn in Kentish Town as part of the London Irish fringe festival Against the Odds, it takes us into the heart of an Irish family living in the East End in 1936.

Outside, Oswald Mosley is whipping up hatred against Jews and the family must decide which way to jump in what's a classic scenario — immigrants struggling to make their mark in a hostile and divided country.

While the play penetrates their sense of danger and desperation right from the off in what's a beautifully crafted piece, two angry young brothers Dessie and Jim articulate conflicting views, typifing the prevalent thinking of the time.

This is a family at war, as much with itself as with the world outside, and the external political scene seems only to exacerbate rather than heal the family’s festering wounds. Jim fiercely opposes Mosley’s methods and stance and is all set to fight fascism in Spain, while Dessie has embraced the blackshirts and is vehemently anti-Jewish — an antipathy that reaches a head when the family discover that Jim is dating a Jewish girl.

Parents Liam and Maureen, still traumatised from memories of the Easter Rising back home and wanting to keep the door to Mosley firmly closed, instinctively seek a quiet life and a good Catholic future for their offspring. Their arguments are amusingly encapsulated when the family variously and with feeling make reference to “Jesus the communist,” “Jesus the Catholic” or “Jesus the Jew,” depending on what suits.

Director Justin Murray has assembled a splendid cast. Aonghus Weber and Fiona Cuskelly make for a strong and convincing Irish couple, while Mickey Mason movingly reveals the heavy load that Jim is carrying as he branches out from the family in pursuit of his beliefs. Kevin Bohan brings powerful humour as their sponging local compatriot, but it is Michael Black as Dessie who really sets the cat among the pigeons with a passionate indictment of Mosley’s anti-Jewish stance in the face of desperation.  

This accomplished work demonstrates unequivocally how fascism feeds on the desperate and the downtrodden, how it splits families and turns neighbour against neighbour.

And, while exploring the Irish legacy in this country, it acts as a warning from history today.

Runs until March 3, box office: lionandunicorntheatre.co.uk

 

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