Out of the Wire and Lottie Walker are bringing a new show, Chopped Liver & Unions, to Brighton Fringe from 9-14 May.
Where: The Rotunda
Ticket link: https://www.brightonfringe.org/events/chopped-liver-unions/
What’s the best thing about being part of the Brighton Fringe?
This is my first time at the Brighton Fringe so it’s all very new, but I am really impressed with the set up. It’s a fabulous part of the world with such an active arts scene that the Fringe seems to be part of the local infrastructure rather than a temporary squatter!
There are lots of local artists involved in the Fringe, too, which is brilliant. I’m looking forward to seeing lots of new stuff and also having a bit of a seaside break – I’m sure there is candy floss to be tracked down and Brighton seafront has to be the best place to run lines on the way to work.
Your show is the story of Sara Wesker, who was a key trade unionist in the East End. Rather relevant to our times now?
Sara’s story is so relevant now. It’s incredible really that throughout history the same issues come up all the time. All that changes are the names! Sara worked in garment factories in terrible conditions and fought hard to improve the lot of her fellow workers.
She says in the play “we do not have wealth or physical strength on our side, to strike is the only weapon we have” . And this is as true today as it was in 1928. The trade unions often get a bad press but without them working class people would have no voice at all.
Right now labour is being withdrawn across Europe, not just in the UK. And here at home, workers rights are being eroded and essential workers such as teachers and medical professionals, people with a true vocation, are being forced to strike as the last resort to try to attain a living wage.
Sara’s story really is a “play for today” and a reminder that together we really are stronger.
You reference the matchgirls strike at Bryant & May and the workers at Dagenham’s Ford plant, both led by women. Why are these stories still of interest and important to tell?
I absolutely love the fact that women led the way in terms of worker’s rights. I’m an East End girl myself and these two events make me so proud! The Matchgirls Strike of 1888 was really groundbreaking; they were so organised that their campaign was used as a template by the dockers in 1889, resulting in the formation of the Trade Union movement as we know it.
Those girls came out in support of each other with no union to support them not for financial reasons (although they were paid a pittance) but because their work was literally killing them. There was no union support (there was no union); they relied on donations from a benefit fund and they sang as they marched all the way from Bow to Westminster collecting pennies from strangers along the way.
The Dagenham workers were fighting the injustice of lower rates of pay for women, which , although they were successful in campaigning for the introduction of the Equal pay Act 1970, is still a problem. The glass ceiling is still very much with us. It’s interesting that Sara led her first strike in 1928, exactly 40 years after the Matchgirls and Dagenham happened in 1968, exactly 40 years on again.
It is important to tell these stories so that current and future generations realise how hard won workers’ rights were. If we allow them to be eroded it will be a very hard fight to get them back.
This is a show which also includes reference to the Battle of Cable Street, which was an uprising against the Fascists. Can you see parallels with current demonstrations and protests, and the treatment of minority groups?
There are definite similarities. Sara and her family came from Ukraine when she was a small child. Mosley and his British Union of Fascists deliberately targeted immigrants such as her family and you only have to watch the news to see the horror stories of the treatment of refugees and minority groups today to see the parallels.
However, it’s not all bad news – there are so many more marches, demonstrations and protests in favour of equality and unity that it does give me hope. There would never have been a Pride march or Notting Hill Carnival in 1936, for example and there has been a massive outpouring of dissent on social media and other platforms against the UK Government’s treatment of refugees.
The Battle of Cable Street is a very proud moment in East End history; Despite being the child of a trade unionist myself I didn’t learn about the Matchgirls or Dagenham when I was growing up, but my parents made sure I knew about Cable Street.
Chopped Liver & Unions stops off at Twickenham and Edinburgh after Brighton. Do you still find Edinburgh a useful place to showcase Fringe theatre or is it becoming too commercial?
Good question – I love being up in Edinburgh for the Fringe, there’s nowhere like it, but there is so much that frustrates me about it. Although it is the biggest trade show for the industry, it only benefits shows who are able to attract the notice of reviewers and industry professionals.
With over 3000 shows to compete with invariably the best opportunities go to those who shout the loudest, which usually means paying a lot of money for publicity and PR. So established acts and big names will do fine, and get audiences, reviews and tour dates . Most smaller companies on a small budget probably won’t.
The cost of accommodation as well as production costs have increased so much that taking a show to the Fringe now has to be viewed as an investment – there is little, if any, opportunity to make money, especially as audience numbers are also decreasing. So the question has to be: if we’re not making money and also not attracting attention from the industry is it worth doing at all?
I think Sara would have loved the whole “spirit of the Fringe”, as it was originally, with companies supporting each other and a voice being given to the undiscovered and non-mainstream performers; I don’t think she’d approve of the corporate ,money making machine it has become. And neither do I.
Part of me wants to continue every year as I love the whole vibe and don’t want to see the Fringe become the same as the main Festival with just big commercial productions programmed, but it’s not an affordable option so who knows if we’ll be back next year ? Watch this space….