Image Credit: Bent Architect
It is always refreshing to see a play which is set at a similar time as the First World War but tells an alternative one, one which the powers to be then didn't want one to hear! England, Arise! is no exception. Written by Mick Martin and directed by Jude Wright of Bent Architect, this 90 minute play premiered at Huddersfield's Lawrence Batley Theatre in October 2014.
The five cast play is inspired by Cyril Pearce's Comrades in Conscience and drawn from Jill Widdington's Rebel Girls which is about the Northern Women's Suffrage movement. England, Arise! tells a story about Arthur Gardiner and Percy Ellis, socialists, who refused to fight during the First World War. Their inspiring and brave stance led to being unpopular with the Government and the suppressed press not to be sympathetic with them. Their beliefs were deemed as unpatriotic and the ostracism from the community and general public whose ignorance was stemmed because of propaganda and biased war news reporting.
Arthur and Percy endured persecution for their convictions with the tortuous prison sentences and military's brutality. The powers to be then were confident that both men would conform and support the war by taking up arms however they were wrong as both conscientious objectors where support and inspired by a community who were opposed to the war. These including fellow socialists, conscientious objectors, trade unionists, religious groups and women involved with the Suffrage movement as well. It is down to those who yearned for revolutionary change politically and socially.
The play offers and insight into Arthur (played by Chris Lindon) and Percy (played by James Britton) lives as radical socialists before and during the war and shares their inspirations, revolutionised visions and collective hopes for the future. The play is told with such heartfelt conviction and optimism despite what the characters are going through. It is simply down to their belief in changing the Status Quo then and visualising how unpopular the war really is which proved so - indirectly expressed by members of the public and a number of artists including Siegfried Sassoon, a poet who served who made a similar stance via his Declaration of War. Songs, under the musical direction of Jamie Lockhart and Lee Smith, are sung by the cast strengthening their desire for the change.
England, Arise! is another avenue that testifies against the mass support shown in historic sources and a need to share this story and similar ones far and wide. With simple sets including the list of the Socialist's 10 Commandments as a backdrop, the strong cast, two members playing multiple roles, is led by Chris Lindon. The local humour and reflections are well received by the audience and this enhances Huddersfield being the town of war resistance by those who were against the war. These brave but optimistic young people made their stance just as similarly to those who feels the war will change the world for the better. This is happening still today in movements whether politically, socially or culturally across the World.
This play is currently on UK Tour and further information can be found via Bent Architect website by clicking on the link.