Theatre: Dare Devil Rides to Jarama
Moving, funny and inspiring tribute to working class heroism
Becci Heagney, Salford Socialist Party
Adelante! "Forever forward" - the motto of an ordinary man from Oldham who did extraordinary things, and lost his life in the Spanish civil war.
'Dare Devil Rides to Jarama' is a moving, funny and inspiring account of the life of Clem 'Dare Devil' Beckett. It is a great feat considering the cast is just two people, but portrays with realism dirt track races, mass protests and war.
Commissioned by the International Brigade Memorial Trust and backed by general union Unite, Socialist Party members Neil Gore and Louise Townsend wrote and directed the play for the war's 80th anniversary.
Audience participation in 'I'm a Rambler', 'Lancashire Lads' and 'The Internationale' helps tell the story of Clem's involvement in mass trespass, driving Oswald Mosley out of Manchester, and fighting fascism in Spain. I saw it in a theatre only a couple of miles down the road from where Clem was born; one of his nieces was in the audience.
As a member of the Young Communist League, he wrote for the Communist Party's newspaper, the Daily Worker. And he unionised his workplace - the speedway track!
As the sport became more popular, businessmen took control and pushed young drivers to risk their lives without proper training and many were killed. Clem set up the Dirt Track Riders Association to organise the riders, but was eventually blacklisted from the sport in Britain.
He travelled to Germany, Den-mark and the Soviet Union where he competed in races, broke world records - and bones! - and met Communist Party members across Europe. When he heard of the International Brigades going to help the war against fascism in Spain, he didn't hesitate to sign up.
The first half of 'Dare Devil' shows that it was ordinary people, politicised by their life experiences, who were drawn into struggle throughout the 1930s. Clem could have had fame and money, but he gave that up because of his commitment to socialist ideas.
The second half is set in Spain and, through the experience of Clem and his friend Christopher, shows the frustration that many felt during the civil war. They wanted to fight, but there was lack of organisation, training and decent weapons. "This gun is shit and if it jams, you're fucked!"
Ending with Clem's death at the Battle of Jarama, it is a timely reminder, on the 80th anniversary, of the sacrifices working class people have made.
The Spanish civil war displayed the heroism and instinctive international solidarity of working class people. This play is a wonderful tribute to those people.
- 'Dare Devil Rides to Jarama' is touring nationally into December. Full dates below. For booking information, visit www.townsendproductions.org.uk
20 Chilwell Arts Centre, Beeston
21 The Lansdown Hall, Stroud
22 The Seagull, Lowestoft
24-29 The Bussey Building, Peckham, London
30 The Marx Memorial Library, Clerkenwell, London (extracts and songs only)
1 Hertford Theatre
2 Wedgwood Rooms, Southsea
3 The Plough Arts Centre, Great Torrington
4 Dorchester Arts Centre
5 Bridport Arts Centre
7 Theatre Royal Margate
10 The Civic, Barnsley
11 Witham Hall, Barnard Castle
12 Cast, Doncaster
13 Severn Theatre, Shrewsbury
14 -19 Lantern Theatre, Sheffield
22 -23 St Michael's Irish Centre, Liverpool
25 Assembly Rooms, Barton
26 Swanland Village Hall
29 Lighthouse, Poole
30 The Place, Bedford
1 Square Chapel, Halifax
2 The Hat Factory, Luton
3 Ruskin College, Oxford