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Dare Devil Rides to Jarama The Place, Bedford/Touring

*****

DARE Devil Rides to Jarama is quite simply the best political theatre produced for a long, long time. The Townsend Theatre Company carved themselves an impressive reputation with the touring play The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists and this is even better.

Writer and performer Neil Gore, along with actor David Heywood and director and producer Louise Townsend, brings alive a remarkable tale of two most unusual British volunteers in the Spanish civil war.

The play tells the amazing story of Wall of Death motorcycle rider Clem “Dare Devil” Beckett and Marxist writer and poet Christopher Caudwell, at first sight two unlikely friends and comrades, who were thrown together by their shared determination to defend the Spanish republic against Franco’s rising fascist tide.

Both were volunteers for the International Brigade. Both would die in February 1937 at the machine-gun post they shared on the first day of the momentous Battle of Jarama.

Yorkshireman Clem Beckett, played by Heywood, was a speedway champion who founded a trade union for dirt-track riders and he found fame riding the Wall of Death all across Europe.

card clem cort

He was also an active Young Communist League and then Communist Party member, playing his part in many great working-class battles like the hunger marches, the Kinder Trespass and the fight against leader of the British Union of Fascists Oswald Mosley.

Christopher St John Sprigg, another Communist Party member, chose to write his Marxist philosophy, literary criticism and exceptional poetry under the pen name Christopher Caudwell.

Like Beckett, he had an interest in engineering. An aeronautical expert, he started his own aircraft magazine and, as the play demonstrates, this shared interest in things mechanical brought the two men together in Spain training volunteers on WWI machine guns.

Commissioned by the International Brigades Memorial Trust and financially supported by Unite and other trade unions, Dare Devil also tells a wider story of the 2,500 British and Irish volunteer heroes who took up arms to stop Franco and his fascist allies in their armed rehearsal for Hitler and Mussolini’s evil plans to dominate Europe.

Powerful storytelling, songs, poetry, puppetry and audience participation all help to bring alive the raw passion and idealism that characterised the heroic actions of so many of the International Brigade volunteers, 500 of whom laid down their lives in the civil war.

Heywood (pictured) is a convincingly revolutionary Beckett while Gore brings alive characters as diverse as Caudwell, Harry Pollitt, Oswald Mosley and even George Formby.

The play has just embarked on an impressive 50-venue tour of one-night stands all over the country in what promises to be one of the most memorable left-wing theatrical events of the year. Don’t miss.

Full tour details are available at townsendproductions.org.uk

Peter Frost

Clem Cort 2

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