Townsend Theatre Brings History to Life

Townshend Theatre Productions have been coming to the Corn Hall for over ten years, highlighting overlooked figures from history that have been involved in the struggle for social justice. Subjects as diverse as the Tolpuddle Martyrs and the Grunwick strikers have ensured their shows are not only enjoyable, but educational.

Behold ye Ramblers casts the spotlight on The Clarion newspaper, founded by Robert Blatchford, a publication that scrutinised the dreadful working conditions of city life for the poor, but did so with a lightness of touch that made the publication both readable and popular. It’s an approach mirrored by Townsend, who wrap up hard hitting realities in a humorous and entertaining package. Neil Gore kicked things off with a traditional Music Hall introduction, lulling his audience into a call and response mood, before easing us into the harsh realities that jolly sing-alongs provided an escape from. On this occasion he performed on his own, but brought a variety of characters to life with his consummate acting skills. The production was peppered with songs, the lyrics drawn from a variety of contemporary sources, while the music is largely Gore’s. In a delightfully surprising departure, mid-way through the show, the cast was expanded by a choir drawn from the local community, who added texture and depth to an already engaging evening.

The choir represented just one aspect of the Clarion’s expanding cultural influence that included singing competitions, cycling excursions, and the eponymous rambling. The evening touched on all of these, offering an impression, rather than a narrative. Unusually for Townsend, the production was less about dramatizing an event – there was little in the way of a narrative arc – and more about an influential attitude that spread amongst its participants and followers that arguably still resonates today.