Rousing musical show about a groundbreaking women’s strike
PUBLISHED: 10:50 12 February 2019 | UPDATED: 11:25 12 February 2019
A groundbreaking folk opera that tells the true story of Mary Macarthur and the women chain-makers who help make history through a strike for fair wages is coming to Diss.
Women chain-makers in the Black Country in the 1900s started work at the forge as children and spent their entire lives making chains. These women had no vote, were largely illiterate, worked a 54-hour week for ‘starvation wages’, and had to take their children to work.
But in 1910 hundreds of women chain-makers of Cradley Heath held a 10-week strike against their employers.
Led by the remarkable trade union organiser and campaigner Mary Macarthur, they won a minimum wage which doubled their incomes.
The strike was a prelude to the ‘Great Unrest’ of industrial action that swept Britain in 1911, and led to a landmark victory for a fair wage, changing the lives of thousands of workers, whilst proving their economic power.
Written by Neil Gore and based on the true story, Rouse, Ye Women! features original songs and music composed by revered folk musician John Kirkpatrick, known for his work with Steeleye Span, Home Service and the Richard Thompson Band.
Writer, actor and musician Neil Gore said: “The story is truly inspirational because it centres on the energy and drive of Mary Macarthur, and her skills as an organiser and tactician. She came to be admired by her trade union and socialist comrades as well as those in positions of power - employers, business leaders and those in government. But, most importantly, she gained the trust of those women workers that she so skilfully organised and represented.”
John Kirkpatrick said: “The songs and music are inspired in large part by traditional industrial folk song, music hall, and protest songs, as well as from projects created within the folk revival period of the 1960s and 70s, themselves based on direct links with traditional music of the past, with a modern, contemporary twist.”
The role of trade unionist and strike leader Mary Macarthur is performed by Scottish folk singer Bryony Purdue, while folk singer Rowan Godel, who has worked ewith some of the biggest names in folk, including Oysterband, The Levellers and Ray Cooper, plays chainmaker Bird.
Director Louise Townsend said: “Through this production we will aim to draw parallels with the inequalities in the lives of women just over a hundred years ago with modern issues of family life, low pay, the minimum wage, the gender pay gap and equality of opportunity.”
• Rouse Ye Women is at Diss Corn Hall on February 14, 7.30pm, £10 (£9 cons/£5 women’s groups), 01379 652241, disscornhall.co.uk