“The powers-that-be have passed the whip down to the mob and told them
their neighbour is their enemy.”
Bernard Duffy – Mosley Must Fall
In recent years, the lurch to the Right in many different countries has had a disquieting effect on society. The rise of nationalist politics – coupled with tougher sanctions on ‘undesirables’ – has seen a upsurge of racially-motivated hate crimes. But this isn’t the first time that such incidents have occurred… Written by Martin McNamara and directed by Rebecca Lyon, Mosley Must Fall takes place in 1936, when various groups confront the Fascists during the Battle of Cable Street. At the centre of the story is the McEnroes – an Irish family who live in the East End of London. Through the respective family members, we encounter the different points of view regarding ‘current events’.
Liam McEnroe (Aonghus Weber) is a former ‘war hero’ from the days of the 1916 Easter Rising. He still carries a wound from that event, but lack of available work in the Irish Free State has forced him to uproot and move to London. Along with his wife Maureen (Fiona Cuskelly), he lives with his two very different sons – Dessie (Michael Black) and Jimmy (Mickey Mason).
Dessie is out of work, so he spends a lot of his time in the local boxing club with like-minded men. Jimmy, on the other hand, spends his free time with his girlfiend Ruth (Lisa Lynn), though he doesn’t talk about her to his parents. He’s very much like his father when he was a younger man – passionate and principled. But while Jimmy’s prepared to make a stand against Oswald Mosley’s ‘Blackshirts’ who are rumoured to be marching through the area that weekend, Liam knows only too well the limits of what can be achieved by violence and how there is a tendency to romanticise being wounded or dying for a cause. Case in point: Bernard Duffy (Liam Clarke). Serving in a different regiment to Liam during the 1916 Easter Rising, circumstances ‘prevented’ Bernard from seeing ‘first-hand action’. The chance to exonerate himself and prove his courage spurs him on meet the ‘Blackshirts’ head on…
While the question of fighting or not fighting preoccupies the men in play, for the women, making a stand takes second place to caring about the physical well-being of their menfolk. As someone who still attends to her husband’s unhealed wound, Maureen knows the price of bravery and the value of when to choose one’s battles. For Ruth, she knows from personal experience how physical and verbal abuse has infiltrated the ghettos of east London – not from the Blackshirts as you would expect, but from people who should know better who live locally. As for how these women view each other… Maureen is happy to have Jewish neighbours, but to have one as a potential in-law…?
The play makes a point of showing all opinions and why the respective characters are so vehement in their points of view. For Jimmy, he sees the rise of Mosley in the UK as the same strain of Fascism that’s taking place in Spain at that time with the ascendency of Franco. This ‘internationalist’ perspective makes no distinction between people in need, abroad or at home. Dessie’s anger, however, springs from the assumption that one socio-economic group monopolises the jobs and businesses, and keeps the Irish oppressed. Ultimately though, it’s the same rhetoric that’s pushed down people’s throats in Nazi Germany.
McNamara’s play complements that other great about the Battle of Cable Street: Arnold Wesker’s Chicken Soup with Barley. In the case of Mosley Must Fall, the crux of the play is the decision by the Irish community (who for many decades weren’t made to feel welcome in the UK) to challenge or accept the propaganda about ‘the enemy within’.
The performance I attended was on 15th November – the day that Theresa May her unveiled her Brexit deal to Parliament – which added an extra poignancy to the proceedings. If there is a more pertinent and urgent play out there that reflects these troubled times, I don’t know it.
© Michael Davis 2018
Mosley Must Fall ran at JW3 on 15th November.