Cammell Lairds 37 The Truth, is the true story of a 10-month strike taking place at the Cammell Laird shipyard in Birkenhead in 1984. In the period of widespread privatisation by the Tory government, a legal loophole allowed 37 strikers to be imprisoned without trial for a month in a Class A prison. Cammell Lairds 37 The Truth tells the story of their strike, their imprisonment, their families left at home and the part their government played in their story.
Written and directed by Mike Howl (also starring as Michael Heseltine), this was a multimedia performance which he hopes will lead to justice being achieved for the surviving members of the 37 men who went on strike at Cammell Laird.
Video was used to introduce and enrich the play. Contemporaneous footage was used to bring home the reality of the story being presented. Margaret Thatcher (Mikyla Jane Durkan) was introduced via the screen, a clever technique which set her apart from the striking workers and made her seem less personable. Footage taken of the cast re-enacting news reports and protests linked the performance to the original films.
The story included references to the Toxteth riots and the miners’ strikes in other parts of the country which provided historical context for audience members less familiar with the story and illustrated the impact the strike and its consequences had for the country as a whole.
The atmosphere of strike solidarity was palpable and emphasised through subtle staging techniques. Michael Heseltine sat slightly apart from Thatcher, Norman Tebbitt (Frank Kennedy) and Geoffrey Howe (Michael Sanders) symbolising his conflicting opinion to their view. The rest of the cast consisting of the striking workers Billy Albertina (Adam Byrne) and Sam (Peter Durr), the striking apprentice (Philip Murray) and workers’ wives (Rosalie Sephton and Maggi Green), remained on the other side of the stage, the space between the two parts of the cast illustrating the gulf between them. Kevin Thomas playing multiple roles, including a news reader and the back to work spokesman, often stood in the middle of the stage, drifting from one side to the other, creating a delicate bridge between two. The Government were often sitting in the dark, ignorant to the impact of their actions, but ever-present and constantly casting a shadow over the workers’ lives.
The play was often gentle and quiet, punctuated by raw emotion and occasional comedy. As the crisis of arrest and imprisonment approached, this almost silent creep towards catastrophe caused by the Tory government’s “managed decline” of Merseyside emphasised the heartrending nature of the culmination of the story. Fear, anger, and sadness were to be expected in this poignant emotive play; the smiles and laughter added a sense of realism to the everyday lives being presented.
There were a number of monologues where the actors spoke directly to the audience, which allowed the air of solidarity and determination to the flow around the theatre. This created a sense of hopelessness and guilt as you sat and hopelessly watched what was happening in the same way as the government in the dark on the other side of the stage.
Kevin Thomas stood out in his portrayal of numerous roles on both sides of the story, quickly switching between characters and costumes without creating any confusion or disorientation for the audience. Rosalie Sephton’s performance as a strong, determined wife, willing to fight on to the end for the cause, was flawless and raw.
Cammell Lairds 37 The Truth is the breath-taking poignant story of a strike, that became a battle, that became a war that is still being fought today.