Folk opera champions pioneer of union rights
After last year’s play about the Grunwick strike in the Seventies, We Are The Lions Mr Manager, Townsend Theatre Productions return to the Lantern Theatre next week with another show about female industrial protest, Rouse, Ye Women: Mary Macarthur and the Women Chainmakers, a folk opera by Neil Gore and John Kirkpatrick.
In 1910 events in Cradley Heath in the West Midlands focused the world’s attention on the plight of Britain’s low-paid women workers involved in the ‘home-working sweated industries’, as they hammered out chain-links in sheds in the backyards of their homes with their babies and children for 5 shillings (25p) for a 50-hour week.
Led by the charismatic union organiser and campaigner Mary Reid Macarthur, hundreds of women laid down their tools to strike for a living wage. The success of the ten-week strike more than doubled their earnings and helped to make the principle of a national minimum wage a reality.
Through rousing traditional songs and moving ballads, Rouse, Ye Women tells the story of Macarthur’s stunning national campaign, the sympathy she inspired for the workers, and the events that led to a final victory.
Rouse, Ye Women is at the Lantern Theatre, Kenwood Park Road, Nether Edge, from Tuesday, February 26, to Saturday, March 2, at 7.30pm. Tickets: £5-£12.