Review: The Lions Of Rotherham, Rotherham College Studio Theatre

Powen Jones as Joseph Maiden (left) with Mitchell Nuttall as Tommy JamesPowen Jones as Joseph Maiden (left) with Mitchell Nuttall as Tommy James
Powen Jones as Joseph Maiden (left) with Mitchell Nuttall as Tommy James
THE FIGHT against fascism in the 1930s was the defining battle which shaped the lives of a generation of working class men from towns like Rotherham.

The Spanish Civil War was one of the pivotal events of the 20th century, as historians have noted, for some a rehearsal for the Second World War, for others the last great cause.

As George Orwell's memoir Homage To Catalonia details, a revolution by Spanish workers and peasants rising up against a fascist coup in July 1936 inspired thousands from around the world to fight in the International Brigades.

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Four men related to Rotherham who fought on the side of the democratically-elected Republic against the forces of fascist dictator General Franco, are vividly brought to life in a stunning new production telling their incredible stories.

Masses of research from a year-long project has been drawn together so as to intertwine the men's lives, with different time lines, to reveal their backgrounds, and experiences.

Running to just one hour 15 minutes, it is both evocative of a world of poverty and equality from more than 80 years ago, and a provocative call to arms to stand and fight for peace and justice.

Most Brigadiers were Communist Party or left-wing Labour, including Jack Jones, later to become a well-known union leader.

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A cast of five actors, with music - Jarama Valley, the Internationale, Leonard Cohen's The Partisan - and sound effects, movingly and powerfully create a performance which is a tribute to all the hard work of those involved, as well as honouring the families of the 'lions' themselves.

Immaculately directed by Karen Mulcahey, who also wrote the script, she even sings alongside Rotherham's own folk troubadour Ray Hearne.

The four main characters, all superbly acted, are Tommy James (Mitchell Nuttall), Chris Smith (Peter Williamson), Geoff Allsopp/ Allstop (Kyle Baker), and Joseph Maiden (Owen Jones).

We see them in battle scenes, fending off lice, struggling for resources and from fatigue.

Jo Dunkley does a great job in multiple roles.

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Born in the workhouse, Communist agitator Tommy James - whose own writings contributed to the play - was subject of a book called The Lion Of A Man and a play with the same title was produced by Sheffield Popular Theatre about his life more than 30 years ago.

Former Rotherham Trades Council President, he was the first communist to be given the Freeman of the Borough but died before it was conferred.

The play brings home the horrors of the war in a segment highlighting the aerial bombing by Nazi forces of the small Basque town of Guernica in 1937, famously depicted by Picasso.

As Karen says in the programme notes: "The play is for those who keep fighting, who see injustice and stand against it."

Salud Rotherham - No Pasaran.

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