The Agit Prop Years

With the exception of The Moyshe Dayan Extravaganza (1972 by Michael Almaz ), all the plays of this period were by David Edgar. The National Interest (1971) was a documentary on the first year of the Tory Government (after coming to power in 1970). The play was a mixture of stand-up comic routines, songs, dance, double acts and parody. The 1970 Industrial Relations Act was dramatized by gangsters – Tory and Labour.

Rent or Caught in the Act (1972), ’a contemporary melodrama’, had a strong story line and dealt with the Housing Finance Act. It used techniques of Victorian melodrama and Music Hall. The characters were the ‘Hardonebys’ at the hands of the landlord, ‘Mr. Squeezem’ and a bailiff called, ‘Bootin’. ‘Honest Ron’ was a squatter. The first performance at the Unity Theatre, London was attended by his ‘worship the Mayor and the Elected Representatives of the London Borough of Camden and Ladies and Gentlemen of the Press’.

State of Emergency (1972) followed which was about current industrial unrests – the Upper Clyde Shipbuilders, the rail disputes and the jailing of five dockers. Edgar used Living Newspaper techniques and during the course of the tour wrote new scenes whilst cutting others out.

Dunkirk Spirit (1974) traced the economic theory of Britain since 1945 – a cartoon history of British capitalism. Noel Greig described these plays as ‘sharp and witty and they responded to events’. (1983)

Rupert (1971) was slightly different in that it was not about industrial militancy and economics but attitudes to the permissive society, obscenity, pornography and the Oz trial. One aspect of the play was to de-eroticise nudity. The audience was asked to vote on whether they wished to see two full frontal nudes, and the first, and possibly only, ‘yes’ vote was recorded at a Roman Catholic College in Birmingham.

The company was run as a collective and the actors collaborated with the writers to modify the scripts. When on tour, the actors took on the directing themselves. During this period the company toured theatre spaces which made them enough money to subsidise their playing non-theatre spaces, such as the Miners’ Clubs and other trade union venues. According to David Edgar the plays worked best with political activists and politicised workers.

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