A hundred years ago, political activist Tom Mann rallied the Liverpool workers to stand as one, inciting a full-blown transport strike that defied the odds stacked against it. Rob Johnston's adaptation of Trevor Griffiths' screenplay sets the events of 1911 against the backdrop of our own economically straitened times.
While the script places the action firmly in 1911, from the staging it's not always clear whether we're watching a representation of past events, or a modern day commentary on them. The play opens with the actors carefully selecting their costumes from a suitcase, but the sense that they are choosing sides in a struggle isn't really conveyed. Characters occasionally break out of the action, narrating events from a modern perspective, but this occurs patchily and is abandoned by the play's end.
James Jowett gives a strong and energetic performance as Gerard Groark, switching easily between the roles of idealistic ship's steward and present day narrator. Hugo Chandor is surprisingly softly spoken as the formidable Tom Mann, quietly insistent on communicating with the Liverpool workers, rather than dictating to them.
Despite hints at events boiling over outside the Joint Strike Committee meeting room, the split stage feels static at times – becoming more energised when the two halves interact. The most drama interestingly derives from the intimacy of the scenes between Mann and British Shipping Federation executive Cuthbert Laws (Andrew Sykes) – providing small vignettes of the battle between individuals as the larger battle rages outside.
Mann's story is inspiring and empowering, but sadly this play doesn't succeed in setting his intention to “rid the world” of people like Laws in a wider historical context.