Broadside Mobile Workers’ Theatre

Company name: Broadside Mobile Workers’ Theatre Company

Founders: Kathleen McCreery and Richard Stourac

Established: 1974

Reason: To create and tour thought-provoking, innovative, entertaining and accessible theatre, which would contribute practically and ideologically to the struggles of working people, women and ethnic minorities in the UK. It would support campaigns for solidarity with liberation and revolutionary movements in other countries. The founders were members of Red Ladder Theatre from 1969 to 1974. When political and artistic differences surfaced, they left to form Broadside, with Red Ladder’s initial financial support.

Current Status: Disbanded in 1986

Area of work: Political

Policy: To provide made to measure plays for trade unions, work places and communities of interest. The inspiration for the plays and much of the material came from rank and file workers, shop stewards and other organisers, and from people at the sharp end of discrimination against women and ethnic minorities. Theatrically, the challenge was to develop forms capable of tackling complex issues, while offering scenarios and characters that audiences recognised, and which moved them and made them laugh. The plays had to be relevant, comprehensible and specific, and offer an alternative to the mainstream media. Broadside aimed to give a voice to workers: they facilitated post-show discussions with audiences, and participants’ ideas and anecdotes often inspired rewrites.

Structure: Full and candidate members. All had the right and responsibility to contribute to discussions of both long-term policy and day-to-day matters. The full members made the decisions if it was not possible to achieve unanimity. Candidate members acquired full membership based on experience, commitment, contribution and qualifications. At full strength, the company had 9 members (6 performers, including a musician/musical director, a designer and 2 administrators). All were paid the same wages and had equal working conditions. A board of trustees included Alvaro Miranda and Dorrie Bancroft. In autumn 1980, founders Kathleen and Richard decided to leave. Kathleen was asked to direct one last production for the group, The Cut Price Welfare State Show, Part Two, before joining Richard in Berlin, where they went on to work with Theatermanufaktur. In 1981, the Arts Council of Great Britain cut Broadside’s funding. Some of the existing members, together with new members, started an unpaid, part-time version of Broadside Mobile Workers’ Theatre.

Based: London. Toured nationally. Mailing address at Holbein House SW1 8NJ. Rehearsal space at Oval House and other sympathetic venues. NUPE – National Union of Public Employees – gave Broadside temporary use of empty premises in Old Town, Clapham, for a pepper corn rent. Eventually, the group was able to rent rehearsal and office space at 241e High Street North, London E12. After the loss of funding, the mailing address was Kelveden House, Guildford Road, SW8.

Funding: Arts Council of Great Britain revenue grant 1975-1981. Income from trade unions and other bookings. Greater London Council grants from 1981-1986.

Performance Venues: Toured England, Scotland and Wales. Invited to Interdrama (1978), an international youth theatre festival in West Berlin. The company performed outdoors on building sites, at demonstrations and on picket lines, and at festivals. Indoor performances took place at trade union branch meetings, trades council meetings, national conferences, and at trade union weekend schools. These were usually in hotels at seaside resorts, such as Eastbourne or Scarborough, occasionally at union headquarters. Broadside also performed in occupied factories and hospitals, for tenants’ associations, for the Co-operative movement and WEA (Workers’ Education Association), for the women’s movement and anti-racist/anti-fascist events, including benefits, at colleges and universities, and occasionally in schools. Examples: The Big Lump toured building sites in Brent and Glasgow and was performed at Tower Hill in support of the jailed Shrewsbury building workers; Divide and Rule Britannia was performed on the Grunwick picket line; We Have The Power of The Wind played to Portuguese migrant workers in West London and around the clock to the workers occupying the Plessey factory in Kirby, Liverpool; The Working Women’s Charter Show was performed at a benefit (organised by members of Broadside) for the striking Grosvenor House Hotel chambermaids.

Audience: Working people, usually organised, often in struggle. Ethnic minorities, immigrants, migrant workers. Women (and supportive men) involved in campaigns for equality. Tenants’ and community organisations. Students and pupils. Supporters of Anti-Apartheid and the Portuguese Solidarity Campaign. The company would not perform for left-wing political groups unless they were engaged in broad frontline work with other organisations, where the issues were to the fore, not the party. An exception was sometimes made for the Labour Party.

For more Broadside images see Kathleen McCreery’s web page

Company Work and Process:
Broadside’s working methods developed out of Kathleen McCreery and Richard Stourac’s practical experiences with Red Ladder in Britain and Die Komödianten in Vienna, as well as their extensive research into the international workers’ theatre movements of the 20s and 30s (See Theatre as a Weapon, Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1986).

Kathleen and Richard visited and learned from contemporaries such as the Chicano and Puerto Rican theatres in California and Spanish Harlem, the San Francisco Mime Troupe and the Alive and Trucking Theatre of Minneapolis. Bertolt Brecht was an important influence for both founders, who believed that art and theatre could contribute to class struggle, by dynamically engaging with workers and progressive organisations and campaigns. Broadside was aware that for theatre to be a revolutionary tool, they could not impose the results or conclusions of a learning process, but had to take audiences on a journey, starting from the existing consciousness of audience members. Their plays had to be responsive to the concerns of audiences, topical, and flexible enough to fit into a variety of non-theatre venues and events. They drew on popular forms such as Irish music, cabaret and commedia, as well as shadow play, living newspaper, montage and the epic theatre forms developed by Brecht. When Ian Saville joined, he contributed his considerable skills as a conjurer. Broadside was sceptical when it came to ‘professional politicos’ only too willing to use and abuse the group’s appeal to workers, and to try to impose their analysis and party line. The company preferred to tell workers’ own stories and draw on their firsthand experiences in their plays, without being dogmatic or patronising. The subject of their first play, the ‘lump’ (casual employment in the building trades, cash in hand, no tax or insurance) was suggested by Tom Durkin of Brent Trade Union Council. We Have the Power of the Wind (1977) was written by Kathleen in response to a request from Alvaro Miranda, who said the Portuguese Solidarity Campaign could do with a play to attract people to their meetings.

Once a particular issue was chosen, the company would do extensive research. As an example, while working on The Big Lump (1975), Broadside members met with and interviewed shop stewards: ‘We spent hours on Sunday mornings in their kitchens, when they were off work, recording these wonderful conversations with them about the industry…’ (Kathleen McCreery, 2013). The material gathered was then used to devise a script, which showed who benefitted (Wimpey, Laing and Co., and layers of contractors and sub-contractors) and who suffered (the workers injured due to the frenetic pace and appalling safety standards; the tenants whose council houses were shoddily built) through a humorous yet poignant story. The set was made of scaffolding, with Irish music played by Andy Hudson on the accordion. The stewards attended rehearsals, showed the actors how to lay bricks, brought them costumes and props (‘fell off the back of a lorry!’), and organised performances for them. One of them, a blacklisted scaffolder, performed in The Big Lump for a time. In this way, Broadside developed a repertoire of plays of different lengths and styles, which could easily be adapted, sometimes at short notice, to suit a number of issues relevant to the organisations they were working with. For example, The Working Women’s Charter Show (1975) was devised to show the interconnectedness of so-called women’s issues, and to expose the limitations of equal pay legislation and the discrimination women faced at work, home and in education. It became popular because it was made of a rolling programme of sketches and songs that could be adapted to whatever was happening. Its topics, ranging from childcare to equal pay, contraception and abortion to domestic violence, suited a variety of venues and organisations, including nursery campaigns, women’s refuges, the National Abortion Campaign, and trade union schools.

The company developed warm relationships with their audiences, often staying with them while touring or supporting occupations, strikes and picket lines. The workers’ feedback after the show was vital for Broadside, and they always encouraged discussion, enabling people to share their criticisms and doubts, beliefs and personal dilemmas, and tell their stories. Discussions were recorded or transcribed by cast members and used for their learning process, with the stories, comments and criticism often incorporated into rewrites. ‘They taught us and they informed our plays. It wasn’t about us coming and telling them what to do, it was them telling us how it worked…. We would then use our own political abilities to analyse and look at what was going on and put that into context, and give it back to them…’ (Kathleen McCreery, 2013). At trade union socials, the company performed songs following the show and discussion, and encouraged audience members to sing, play and recite poetry, too. Scottish and Welsh audiences were particularly ready to raise their voices.

In the last five years of its existence, with the support from the Greater London Council, a group of existing and new members started an unpaid, part-time version of Broadside. During the last five years, the company produced two new plays: Cinderella and the World of Work (1982/83) about women in the workplace, and Brits (1985/85), an anti-imperialist play, as well as revue shows of songs, interspersed with short sketches. When the Greater London Council was abolished in 1986 the company disbanded.

Personal Appraisal and Thoughts:
Kathleen McCreery and Richard Stourac founded Broadside Mobile Workers’ Theatre in 1974, and worked with the company until 1981. Please, find below the links to Kathleen and Richard’s appraisal of their time at Broadside Mobile Workers’ Theatre.
Kathleen McCreery appraisal
Richard Stourac appraisal


The Big Lump
Writer: Kathleen McCreery, Richard Stourac, Andy Hudson
Director: Kathleen McCreery
Cast included: Richard Stourac, Andy Hudson, Julie Holledge, Lorna Edwards, Barb Darling, Kathleen McCreery, Malcolm Raeburn, Jeffrey Roberts, Billy, David, Alex.
Sound: Andy Hudson

Unionised building sites across London
UCATT(Union of Construction and Applied Trades)
Protest Marches and rallies for the jailed Shrewsbury pickets
The Working Women's Charter Show
Devised: Broadside Mobile Workers' Theatre
Directrors: Kathleen McCreery, Richard Stourac
Cast: : Kathleen McCreery, Lorna Edwards, Kerrigan Rudon, Richard Stourac, Geraldine Whiteside
London and UK tours
Now You See It, Now You Don’t
Devised: Broadside Mobile Workers' Theatre
Director: Kathleen McCreery, Richard Stourac
Cast: Kathleen McCreery, Richard Stourac, Lorna Edwards, Andy Hudson
Designer:Patricia De Villiers
Sound: Andy Hudson

London and UK tours1976
The National Air Show, later, The Participation Waltz
Devised: Version 1, devised by Broadside Mobile Workers' Theatre. Version 2, written by Kathleen McCreery
Director: Version 1, Kathleen McCreery, Richard Stourac. Version 2, Kathleen McCreery
Cast: Kathleen McCreery, Julie Holledge, Richard Stourac, Martin Vernon, Kerrigan Rudon, Jeffrey Roberts
Designer: Patricia De Villiers
London and UK tours1976
Divide and Rule Britannia
Devised: Red Ladder show which Broadside Mobile Workers' Theatre updated
Director: Kathleen McCreery, Richard Stourac
Cast: Kerrigan Rudon, Ian Saville, Kathleen McCreery, Richard Stourac, Lorna Edwards, Jeffrey Roberts
London and UK tours1976
We Have the Power of the Wind
Writer:Kathleen McCreery
Director: Kathleen McCreery, Richard Stourac
Cast: Lorna Edwards, Kathleen McCreery, Ian Saville, Kerrigan Rudon, Richard Stourac, Barry Gilder
Designer: Patricia De Villiers
Sound: Barry Gilder, songs by Vitorino and other Portuguese singers
London and UK tours
East Berlin (1977)
Plessey occupation in Kirby (1977)
Apartheid: The British Connection
Writer: Devised and written by Broadside Mobile Worker's Theatre. Kathleen McCreery wrote the shadow-play narration.
Director: Kathleen McCreery, Richard Stourac
Cast: Barry Gilder, Kerrigan Rudon, Kathleen McCreery, Richard Stourac, Lorna Edwards
Designer: Patricia De Villiers
Sound: Songs by Barry Gilder, Ewan MacColl and Peggy Seeger
London and UK tours1978
The Cut-price Welfare State Show One: NHS a Terminal Case??? I
Writer: Kathleen McCreery
Director: Kathleen McCreery, Richard Stourac
Cast: Christoper Opie, Rosie Blair, Marin Vernon, Maria Tolly, Pete Lewis
Designer:Paul Colbeck
London and UK tours
The Cut-price Welfare State Show II
Writer: Kathleen McCreery
Director: Kathleen McCreery
Cast: Maria Tolly, Colin, Helen, MartinVernon, Kerrigan Rudon
Designer: Paul Colbeck
London and UK tours
Cinderella and the World of Work
Devised: Broadside Mobile Workers Theatre
Cast: Ian Saville
London and UK tours1982/83
Devised: Broadside Mobile Workers Theatre
Cast: Lloyd Hayes
London and UK tours1984

Interviewee reference: Kathleen McCreery

Kathleen McCreery website
Ian Saville website
Maria Tolly website
The Argument Room, Political and Community Theatre, 1st February 2013

Existing Archive material: Unfinished Histories archive holds Broadside posters and flyers. An original letter from Broadside with an accompanying show list is held at the Warwick University Library, Modern Records Centre. One poster and a flyer of Broadside productions are held at The Women’s Library (London).

Reason for disbanding: Broadside disbanded in 1986. The reasons were mainly of a financial nature: the time-consuming process of developing and touring the play became increasingly problematic for the unpaid volunteer cast, whilst bookings were hard to obtain from the cash-strapped trade union and labour movement. When the Greater London Council, the only funder of Broadside, was abolished in 1986, the group decided to abandon the project.

Letter to Mr Smithers with accompanying show list description by Broadside Mobile Workers’ Theatre – the original is held at the Warwick University Library, Modern Records Centre (1978)
British Alternative Theatre Directory 1980, Catherine Itzin (John Offord Publications: East Sussex, 1980)
Stages In Revolution. Political Theatre in Britain since 1968 by Catherine Itzin (Eyre Methuen Ltd: London, 1980)
Fightback, Cut Price by Lloyd Trott in The Leveller (Vol. 53 April 3-16 1981)
Theatre as a Weapon by McCreery and Stourac (Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1986)

Acknowledgements: This page has been developed and constructed by Sara Scalzotto, with gratitude to Kathleen McCreery and Richard Stourac, who provided the copy for the initial company information and Company Work and Process sections. Thanks also to other Broadside Mobile Workers’ Theatre company members: Maria Tolly, Paul Colbeck and Ian Saville. November 2013

The creation of this page was supported by the National Lottery through the Heritage Lottery Fund.