The International Memorial Brigade have commissioned this poignant play to mark the 80th anniversary of the Spanish Civil War, and to celebrate the heroic crusade of the British men who joined the fight in Spain.
Writer Neil Gore brings to the forefront the life of Clem Beckett, dirt track-racer turned political campaigner. He’s a northern lad and with a wink and a nod you’re charmed by this cheeky chap. But behind the laddish swagger and underneath his leather biker jacket is a working-class heart hell-bent on preventing the exploitation of youngsters on the track.
The dirt bike gets swapped for dirty politics and Beckett’s dare-devil tricks on the Dome of Death fill him full of gung-ho spirit. He’s a real-life protagonist and his strive for equality saw him head up a workers union and join the British Communist Party, throwing himself unto the breech protesting against the fascist threat bubbling under Oswald Mosley.
At the outbreak of the civil war in 1936, members of the party enlisted to support the war effort in Spain, campaigning for democracy and to push against the rebel fighters. Beckett journeyed across with writer pal Christopher Cauldwell, but despite their best efforts they were ill-equipped, weapons were scarce and they were heroically killed in battle at Jarama.
Director Louise Townsend presents a charming scrapbook of history, filled with a collage of poems, folk songs, stories and photographs. The music direction is led by John Kirkpatrick and brings a brilliant authenticity to the piece that induces the audience into a singsong, and brings an essence of the political comradery during the rallies. The audience also contribute to the percussion with rattle clackers that serve as motor bike revs or a stream of gunfire in a thoughtful stroke by Kirkpatrick.
Emily Bestow’s design feels wonderfully vaudeville with stripped back wooden sets and industrial lighting that lends itself perfectly to the warehouse setting at Peckham’s Bussey Building. It’s simplicity at its best, creatively designed with considered flourishes.
The two cast members are charming storytellers. David Heywood delicately captures the young, political warrior and pumps him full of vim and vigour. He gives an impassioned and captivating performance, truly bringing Clem Beckett to life on stage. Equally Neil Gore greatly supports as Cauldwell and also portraying the many characters Beckett encounters. There’s a warm and hugely likeable quality to his performance, that Gore delivers with real flair and ease.
Gore has delivered a compelling piece, and successfully combined history with heaps of heart. It’s a celebration of the lives of these two men and makes a loud clacking rattle so these heroes aren’t forgotten.
(Photo courtesy of Daniella Beattie)