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The Spanner Experiment: Agitprop theatre’s radical comeback

Two plays have been republished that were part of the "agitprop" theatre movement that sought to encourage unrest

Issue No. 2211

Performing agitprop in a workplace (Pic: John Sturrock)

Performing agitprop in a workplace (Pic: John Sturrock)


Just Press, an independent publisher of books and art, was officially launched last week, at the Cartoon Museum in London.

It wishes to “reflect fun, fury and hope which celebrates the unorthodox and champions a commitment to each other”.

Its list of debut publications offers a diverse collection of themes and ideas.

Most interestingly, it has republished two plays by Ernest Dalton and North West Spanner theatre group, first performed in the 1970s. The plays, Partisan and Cog, come under the title The Spanner Experiment.

As part of the “agitprop” theatre movement, these plays were not only commenting on industrial and political unrest, but seeking to encourage it.

Dalton writes, “These plays give voice to the raging arguments and struggles of our time.” This makes them a unique chronicle of both the mood and the political environment of the 1970s.

John McGrath, a left wing Scottish playwright, stated the aim of agitprop as, “articulat[ing] pressure towards [social change]… Above all, it can be the way people find their voice, their solidarity and their collective determination.”

These plays were performed in factories and working men’s clubs across the country, exploring the relationships and pressures of the factory floor and looking at the debates taking place every day.

The Spanner plays are perhaps best summed up by the reaction of a Tory councillor, who in 1977 tried to destroy the Spanner theatre group – by cutting their funding and claiming their plays called for “blood on the streets”.

Pick one up and educate yourself about a fascinating piece of working class cultural history.

The Spanner Experiment
Published by Just Press
Out now

Copies of the plays are available from www.justpress.co.uk/books.html


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Reviews
Tue 20 Jul 2010, 18:40 BST
Issue No. 2211
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