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Theatre Review Striking reminder in show on landmark US labour dispute

Bread & Roses
Oldham Coliseum Theatre

EX-MILL town Oldham is the ideal location for this staging of Ian Kershaw's new play about the 1912 mill workers' strike led by the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW), the “Wobblies,” in Lawrence, Massachusetts.

The IWW sought to recruit the new working classes into their union which included immigrants, women and, unusually for the time, black people and the production captures the hopes and dreams of a group of workers who refused to accept low pay and servitude in the powerhouses of the US economy.

Breaking the censorship of the local press, the IWW launched a national appeal and achieved publicity across the US when several hundred strikers’ children were stopped by the police at Lawrence railway station as they tried to leave the town to go to temporary homes provided by union members and their parents were brutally attacked.

This was picked up by the national press and the employers were forced to accept the workers’ demands, including better pay and no recriminations against the strikers.

Directed by Amanda Huxtable, the drama of “The Singing Strike of 1912” is conveyed through brilliantly performed Wobblies songs, with Claire Burns as the striker and martyr Anna LoPizzo almost stealing the show as she belts out some of the classics of the strike.

Iconic IWW organiser Elizabeth Gurley Flynn (Tupele Dorgu), spurs on the largely female workforce who faced mass arrests, threats of violence and even murder by employer-sponsored militias. Flynn and her comrades were not deterred and set up a network of soup kitchens, food parcels and even medical care provided by volunteer doctors.

The strikers used their voices to spread their message of defiance and hope against the formidable brutality of the Establishment and the song Bread & Roses became a hymn for the strikers in their determination to win and to make a better future for themselves and their children.

A striking reminder, if ever there was one. Don't miss.

Runs until July 7, box office: coliseum.org.uk.http://coliseum.org.uk

 

 

 

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