Dear Love of Comrades

Company Name: Gay Sweatshop Theatre Company
Writer: Noel Greig
Music: Alex Harding
Director: Nancy Diuguid
Designer: Paul Dart
Cast: Ray Batchelor, Peter Glancy, Noel Greig, Stephen Hatton, Philip Timmins
Accompanist: Alex Harding
Year: 1979

In 1979 Gay Sweatshop produced The Dear Love of Comrades, the story of socialist Edward Carpenter, and his 30 year relationships with his lover George Merril, a working-class odd job man. It had an all male cast but was directed by Nancy Diuguid. This was Nancy Diuguid’s last production with the company.

There were still inclinations on the political left to marginalize the rights of homosexuals; the position of Stalinism embodied in the Communist Party, was that gay sexuality was a bourgeois deviation. The 1960s and 1970s saw a return to a genuine Marxism that sought to fight all forms of repression. Partly in response to this, Gay Sweatshop produced The Dear Love of Comrades, the tale of a gay working-class hero and one of the founding figures of the Labour Party.

‘The Dear Love of Comrades was about the birth of the Labour Party and the ideals that gave rise to the Labour Party. It would be interesting to see it be done again at the moment.’

‘I wrote it on my own. I think it was probably the first play I’d put my name to as on my own. That’s right. I didn’t realise that but you are absolutely right. It happened because it was going to be with Drew [Griffiths] and then it wasn’t and then I thought I’d better do it. I’ll do it. I’ll do it on my own. .. Well I’d fallen in love with Edward Carpenter…and I just started reading all his work and I think he’s just a fantastic – visionary person. His life was just extraordinary. This kind of bourgeois man that grew up in Brighton whose father was a banker and he ended up living in a commune outside of Sheffield having relationships with working-class men. And that’s what the play’s about. The three key relationships of his life were with these working-class men, and they’re all called George. Again it tapped into my love of history but it also tapped into the Bradford experience – of going up to Sheffield and reading through the Carpenter archive. Reading the letters between him and these working class men. These actual letters, these wonderful articulate letters from these working class men in Sheffield in the nineteenth century to Carpenter. Articulate and warm, and that was again another revenge on the Left who I’d had all these rows with. The straight Left, who were going, ‘After the revolution there won’t be homosexuals, homosexuality doesn’t exist in the working-classes.’ They said it to me. I had people from I.S [International Socialism] saying it to me. It is a middle-class construct. So it was wonderful about Carpenter to discover actual concrete proof of that.’

‘Nancy Diuguid’s final piece [for Sweatshop] was the Dear Love of Comrades. She directed it. Nancy yeah! What a great spirit. It was rather wonderful because it was an all-male cast and it was Nancy and her boys. She was a great leader and she did a great job on it. And it actually sort of kick-started what happened between me and her. We did another play called Angels Descend on Paris., a year after the Dear Love of Comrades for the Albany. We had a great working relationship, but in a good way. I think it was one of the best working relationships I had. A key figure, a hugely key figure.’

‘When we were doing the Dear Love of Comrades we were making our way to a gay nightclub and we were walking along and this van burst open and all these guys with iron bars came and attacked us and a lot of people got hospitalised. Things like that were always happening on Gay Sweatshop tours. That was a very extreme, the attack by the gang in Birmingham. But right from the start Gay Sweatshop would turn up and the person who was running the B n’ B had found out who Gay Sweatshop was and would say, you can’t come in here. So that was always happening. I think that was quite unique about the theatre companies at the time, the company had to deal with things like that all the time really.’

Noel Greig, 2008

For a further account of the attack on the Dear Love of Comrades company by cast member Ray Batchelor see here

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