Young Newham actors enjoy rare experience in Keir Hardie play
PUBLISHED: 12:00 27 August 2016 | UPDATED: 15:59 01 September 2016
A play about the election of the borough's most famous MP has enjoyed a run of community performances.
Funder happy to help broaden horizons
Even art tends to cost money, so it’s important to note this play was only possible thanks to generous funders.
The Royal Docks Trust’s contribution, which was about £15,000, helped James Kenworth employ the two professional actors who mentored the young performers.
Founding trustee Stephen Nicholas, 61, said A Splotch of Red helped widen the horizons of children in Newham.
“Maybe one of the kids will go on to be a professional actor,” Mr Nicholas, who has lived in Beckton since 1989, said.
“But it’s about the whole experience – especially the chance to take something really seriously.”
He added: “It’s about having a go, whether you do well or not.”
Mr Nicholas, who said the play coming out as Labour is “in crisis”, was not intentional – but stressed the story of the workers’ struggle was crucial to tell.
“What you don’t want to do is push an agenda,” he said.
“That stops being art and becomes propaganda.
“But whatever side of the spectrum you’re on, I think most people agree we’re better off now than in Hardie’s day.”
Children and young adults from Newham played most of the roles in A Splotch of Red: Keir Hardie in West Ham – which looks at the area’s rich socialist history.
They were picked from schools and clubs across Newham to star in the play and given a unique opportunity to work with professionals.
“It’s an experience that not many people get,” Abubacarr Bah, 13, who plays three roles in the show, said.
“I’m thankful to be here – it’s been nice to make new friends.”
A Splotch of Red – which runs for just over an hour – starts with a bang: the resurrection of Keir Hardie and a rendition of The Red Flag.
Soon joined by fellow West Ham MP Will Thorne, Hardie recognises his own time in his new surroundings.
When the Scot realises where he is, he proclaims: “Of course – Rebel Newham”.
Inevitably, a reference to Jeremy Corbyn soon pops up.
“A bearded man from Islington says I’m his hero,” Hardie says, before explaining he didn’t strive his whole life to “create a party that stands on the sidelines”.
The rest of the story concerns Hardie’s victory over Conservative Major Banes in 1892’s West Ham South poll.
Both Thorne and Hardie are played by professional actors – James Dallimore and Samuel Caseley – but Newham’s finest fill in with other roles.
As Hardie reminds workless dockers and freezing labourers why they fought for rights, a poignant parallel is drawn with modern Britain.
On the play’s topic – the election of the first Labour MP, Keir Hardie, in West Ham in 1892 – Abubaccar said he had learned a lot.
“We should be proud of Keir Hardie,” the Kingsford Community School pupil, who lives in North Woolwich, said.
“If he didn’t surface, who knows where we would be? Work would still be painstaking.”
For writer James Kenworth, who lives in Beckton, the chance to perform in the likes of East Ham Library – in Barking Road – was a “wonderful” feature.
“I get a thrill doing it in a library,” Mr Kenworth, who also wrote Revolution Farm, said.
“They are definitely places Keir Hardie would have wanted to see defended today.”
He added: “Not to go all class war, but there’s a social aspect in this because not many kids who aren’t from affluent backgrounds get this kind of opportunity.”
In many cases, Mr Kenworth said, the children were being told about Keir Hardie for the first time – and learning about the history of working conditions in Newham.
For Demy Joseph, 20, the play – which was directed by James Martin Charlton – is his first experience of acting.
“This is helping me improve my life,” Demy, who lives in Victoria Street in Stratford, said.
“I’m not working now because my daughter Inayah was born 12 days ago – but I would like to write.”
He added: “I didn’t know all this stuff about Hardie – how he basically created the Labour Party.
“It’s not as bad now, obviously, but it’s still similar – it’s hard to find a job worth doing.”
The performances of A Splotch of Red were free to all Newham residents thanks to the support of the London Borough of Newham