The Story of Unity Theatre

The Story of Unity Theatre

The Story of Unity Theatre

The Story of Unity Theatre

Excerpt

Tucked off the road behind King’s Cross and St Paneras in North London, Unity, a tiny theatre of the left, rose, during its forty-year history, to national and international prominence. For a period it could justifiably claim to be the leading amateur theatre in Britain. Dedicated to making the world a better, fairer, more peaceful place, Unity Theatre relied for its remarkable survival on the enthusiasm and commitment of its practitioners and the goodwill and loyalty of its supporters.

The theatre began with irrepressible determination amid the political struggles of the early 1930s that were fought against the savage cuts in state benefit, the imposed means tests, the waste of widespread unemployment and poverty, and above all against the rise of fascism. Four decades later, when the theatre’s auditorium was destroyed by fire, Unity had become a shadow of its former glories. Yet, despite its non-professional status and limited size, Unity made a major and lasting contribution to the British theatre through its own work and that of its members who became professionals. It pioneered direct political commentary on stage in its satires and documentary-based shows and developed a drama that represented working-class life and speech with insight and integrity.

As well as presenting countless mobile shows on tour, Unity mounted in its own theatre more than 250 productions, over half of which were new plays, many specially written for Unity, and a third of which contained original music - an astonishing productivity, especially for an amateur company. This encouragement of creativity produced some shows that, even if they did not endure beyond their moment, comprise an original and peculiarly English enrichment of indigenous drama, such as the comic Where’s That Bomb? written by two taxi drivers, a Living . . .

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