The 1980s - The Workers
Bill Bryden’s Willie Rough is based on real events in Scotland, during a Clydesdale shipyard workers’ strike in the First World War. The idealistic Willie Rough was played by Elwyn Edwards in the 1980 production.
The 1902 Mount Kembla mine disaster was the subject of Windy Gully staged at the New by Theatre South in 1989.
Jean-Claude Grumberg’s The Workroom, an Australian premiere in 1981, concerned women working in the garment industry in Paris 1945-52. Directed by John Tasker, it was designed by Tom Bannerman after Warren Field got paid work at the Melbourne Festival Hall.
In the Bill Owen/Tony Russell version of The Matchgirls, staged in 1981, Jean Kittson played Kate (in 1948 portrayed by Dolore Whiteman).
The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists, first produced in 1933, was reprised in 1987 as Stephen Lowe’s adaptation from the original novel.
An open reading was given of Paul Clarke’s The Ninth Stitch about the 1923 strike by Melbourne police over their supervision by plain clothes “spooks”. After the police stopped work on 31 October there were riots and looting and they were replaced by special constables, but much of the disturbance had died down by Melbourne Cup Day.
Publicity for the 1982 production of Reedy River likened the character Joe Collins to BLF fighters for improved conditions and Green Bans (Jack Mundey, Joe Owens and Bob Pringle), all victimised for their beliefs.
The New supported striking Queensland electricity workers in 1985.
An item in Ron Raygun in the Antipodes signalled a break from past portrayals of unionists. Self-serving Patrick Michael O’Sinecure of the Federated Associated National Brotherhood of Ship Plumbers and Dodgers addresses “execkertive” members:
Now brothers, I’m sure you’re all aware that there’s been a lot o’ loose talk about revolutions and that. But before we go about allocatin’ substantial monies to these anti-government rallies and such-like, I believe we should be lookin’ first to consolidate the position of our own membership.
Some NT members objected to criticism of the USSR in Howard Barker’s No End of Blame where an artist discovers that freedom of expression exists neither there nor in England.
There was also disquiet over Howard Brenton’s portrayal of Stalinist-style socialists as worse than capitalists in his Thirteenth Night, a reworking of Macbeth set in modern Labour-governed Britain.