Workers' Theatre Movement

A change in society and in our art

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In a follow-up to his piece on the radical theatre of the 1930s, David Gilchrist examines how the events of 1968 kick-started a new theatre of the people. The 7:84 company took popular forms of culture - from TV to the ceilidh - and utilised them to reach new, working class audiences.

John McGrath and Elizabeth McLennan set up the socialist 7:84 Theatre Company in 1971. McLennan was a successful actor both in the theatre and on television. McGrath had had a successful career, scriptwriting the early episodes of a ground breaking TV cop show, Z Cars. They were both disillusioned with commercial theatre and excited by the political events of 1968.

Building a theatre of action

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The Workers' Theatre Movement developed out of the confident working class movement of mid-1920s Britain, but was later buried by the changing priorities of the Communist Party. Its radical legacy of performance by, for and about workers is uncovered by David Gilchrist.

The great upheavals of the First World War and the Russian Revolution led to a widespread questioning in British society; this applied no less to theatre. Following the example of Russia, which experienced a huge flowering of art following the revolution of 1917, workers in Britain saw the establishment, at first locally, and then on a national basis, of the Workers’ Theatre Movement (WTM).

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