To get the most out of life you must be active, you must live and you must have the courage to taste the thrill of being young”
Friedrich Engels, was born in Germany in 1820. He was an industrialist, political activist, writer, political theorist, and with Karl Marx he was the co-author of Marxist theory. From an early age he was politically active and his parents sent him to Manchester in 1842 to work for the family firm and to remove him from his revolutionary activities at home.
They could not have been more wrong. In Manchester he lived a double life. With his wealthy business friends he indulged in all the delights of the big city. He regularly drank in the pubs, rode to hounds, was a swordsman and spoke many languages.But unknown to his respectable friends he had a relationship with an Irish factory worker, Mary Burns, and it was Mary who showed him the other side to Manchester and Salford.He lived with Mary until her death in 1863.
His walks with Mary through the appalling slum areas of Manchester and Salford led to his seminal work The Condition of the Working Class in England in 1844.
In the introduction to the 1969 edition of Engels’ The Condition of the Working Class in England Marxist historian EJ Hobsbawn commented that “It remains an indispensable work and a landmark in the fight for the emancipation of humanity.”
But of what relevance does it have in 2012? Actor and director Jimmy Fairhurst of theatre group, Not Too Tame, feels it has a resonance with the lives of working-class people today, particularly in austerity Britain. “I couldn’t believe it was written in 1844. Engels could be talking about today”. Jimmy was so inspired by the book that he wanted to “provide a platform for working class people to find out about Engels and explore his work”.
His latest production is a partnership with film company Inside Film, with funding provided by Brunel University where they are based. He has got together 25 people of ages ranging from 13 years upwards to “look again at the condition of the working class in England, today, working from Engels book and their own experiences to create a show of dramatic sketches,songs and performances poetry.”
Many of the volunteers on the project have never been involved with politics before but in reading Engels text they have been able to very easily see its modern day relevance. Rosie said “My dad is always nagging me to get involved with politics, as he says, I am the next generation. Being involved with the project has made me more aware of what is going on and that nothing has really changed since 1844.”
Another volunteer, Jenny, is from an Irish background and works with asylum seekers. She was amazed by the contemporary nature of the book. “My family are Irish, my gran came over from Dublin and I can see parallels with the way they were treated and how it is acceptable to discriminate against some people”
The play will only have four performances,but will be filmed by Inside Film and Jimmy is enthusiastic about the future for political theatre. “People want to see drama about their lives. We need to find ways to make it accessible, to bring it to the pub or the community centre.”
picture courtesy of Salford Star – see website for more about Fred.