Following a successful UK tour marking the 80th anniversary of the Spanish Civil War, Dare Devil Rides To Jarama comes to Tara Theatre for a limited run. Based during the Spanish Civil War, as the powerful political forces engulfed 1930s Europe, it focuses on the unlikely friendship between Clem Beckett, a Lancashire blacksmith and famous star of the speedway track, and Christopher Caudwell, a renowned writer, poet and philosopher. I caught up with writer and actor Neil Gore to discuss the show as the tour comes to London:
Where did the idea come from to put together Dare Devil Rides To Jarama?
The idea actually came from some conversations with the War Memorials Trust – they look after the memory of the 2,500 British and Irish people that went and fought in Spain between 1936 and 1939. They look after lots of memorials up and down the country, large and small. For the 80th anniversary of the Spanish Civil War, they commissioned us to write the play. It’s a topic that’s really good for us and the thing that we do as Townsend Productions – a perfect match really.
With Clem and Christopher, you’ve got two very different people from different backgrounds coming together in the crucible of war, you find how representative they are of the young men out there. On the surface they seem so different, but you start to unpeel the layers and get beneath the skin of both.
Dare Devil Rides To Jarama comes to Tara Arts on 2 – 5 May, with yourself in the cast. It must have been quite hard to tell Clem’s extraordinary story in just this one play?
Yes, I play everybody else apart other than Clem. It would be impossible to retell everything, but we manage to touch on most of it – we try and weave it into the songs in the show, various other methods of telling. We don’t miss much out, we have to be a bit economical because he actually went to Spain twice, taking out an ambulance early on and then going out again as part of a larger convoy.
It’s a game of two halves – the first half touches on the drama of the 1930s and the second half focussing on the relationship between Clem and Chris Caudwell and their frustrations with it all, how the British and French policies of non-intervention stopped the troops being armed properly. We get a sense of the battlefield as well and how awful the whole thing was.
“We aim to take stories of social justice into places across the country to inform them through social history.”
It’s obviously a very layered story coming through, what is not simply a straight verbatim play. Was that a conscious choice?
It’s very much our style. Any storytelling device we can find, we look to incorporate and that’s the excitement, drawing on so many different styles. It does what it says on the tin – it’s not theatre attempting to be TV with lots of blackouts and other devices.
Theatre has a very important purpose to it, in this case highlighting a war that was pivotal for a country and has been forgotten about.
The establishment, such as it is right now, have stopped teaching it in the curriculum. But you’d never understand the Second World War if you can’t understand what was going on in Europe at the time. A lot of opportunities were going on back then in terms of building a Fascist movement and giving it strength. The other point of view is that you’ve got policies from countries like Britain that didn’t do anything in an attempt to steer away from war. But for the young men that went, the Communist supporters in Britain, for them there was no other option but to go and help and fight. They couldn’t understand the turbulent political situation of the time, which is why they went to Spain. It’s vital really that people know about this.
There is this incredibly rich history, a poignant and vital piece of the puzzle that precludes World War Two but isn’t discussed.
It seems to be we have the same discussions now though, it seems to be happening again. It’s a vicious cycle, certain parties gaining popularity – that was all around in that decade. People often associate propaganda with times of war, but it can perpetuate past time of conflict – history is written by the victors.
It seems a subject that well aligns with Townsend Production company – tell me a bit more about your aim as a whole.
We aim to take stories of social justice into places across the country to inform them through social history. We play big theatres through to tiny venues – the smallest was a tiny club that held about 30 people, of course it was sold out! The set for this show is adaptable to the space, which is helpful. We aim to associate with Trade Unions as well. All three of us – Louise Townsend, John Kirkpatrick and myself – have worked together at the New Vic Theatre, Newcastle, so we’ve known each other over the years.
How important is it for theatre to play more than simply big venues in major cities?
It’s vital really. I think that theatre can be a little inward looking sometimes. The art is very important, we make productions as top quality as possible to do the story a service. To take the story of Clem and to make it work regionally with varying audiences is a huge ask, but something we’ve been successful in doing.
The show has toured the UK successfully already and is now at Tara Arts. What is the future hope for the show?
It will exist in some way as we’ve recorded it as a radio play. I’m just in the process of writing the next play, a story of the Grunwick dispute, which is a 1976 – 1978 strike by Asian women working in Willesden at a manufacturing plant.