Bent Architect are not a left wing theatre group in the traditional sense but they have produced one of the few dramas this year which challenges the Government’s propaganda about the First World War. England Arise is the story of people who refused to be conscripted into the army in 1916 and the communities that supported them.
Bent Architect are Mick Martin and Jude Wright. They both have a long history of writing and producing in television, theatre and the community. They started the theatre group in 2007 and over the years have produced plays addressing issues as varied as bipolar and Charles Darwin. Wright describes how they work; “it gives us the opportunity to do things that are a little off the wall. When a story is right and it is the time to tell it we bring the company into action.”
They decided to produce a play about Huddersfield and the issue of conscription; “I saw Cyril Pearce on a television programme over 15 years ago and he really changed my ideas about the First World War and the issue of conscription.”
Pearce’s book, Comrades in Conscience: The Story of an English Community’s Opposition to the Great War, published in 2002 , is a study of the opposition to the First World War in Huddersfield. In it he argues that opposition to the war in the town has been marginalised by mainstream historians.
In the 1960s he interviewed key members of the town’s Independent Labour Party which revealed that Huddersfield had many conscientious objectors and that they were not a marginal group but were supported by what was a highly politicised community. Huddersfield was an important place because of its textile industry and the socialist politics which sprang from it. Pearce became an adviser for the play and his book became a bible for the playwrights.
England Arise tells the story of Arthur Gardiner, a dyers’ labourer from Huddersfield who refused to fight in the First World War because of his political beliefs. The writers have used his verbatim account of his defence before the Military Service Tribunal in 1916 in the play to demonstrate his bravery and the centrality of his socialist politics to his refusal to fight.
Mick Martin, the writer of the play, has also used feminist historian Jill Liddington‘s excellent history “Rebel Girls” which shows the impact of the suffrage movement in towns such as Huddersfield in the early 1900s. As Jill Liddington explains; “When the Huddersfield WSPU branch was formed in December 1906 about fifty women gave their names.” The play shows how young men such as Gardiner were inspired by the women’s experience of imprisonment, hunger strikes and of being treated as aliens in their own country. To accompany the play the company have taken traditional socialist songs and asked local musicians to compose new music to the words.
Jude Wright says they want the play to remind people of an important aspect of history in this country and show how ordinary people can make a difference to the politics of their era. The play has been financially supported by Kirklees Council which means that Bent Architect will be giving talks and running workshops in the local schools and libraries. Funding from the Cooperative Group has meant that they will able to take the production to Rochdale while a donation from the Lipman and Amiel Trust will allow the play to be published.
Martin sums up how they feel about the play; “Ultimately it is a very dramatic and universal story of people standing up for what they believe in, it’s also very hopeful, about young men and women who believe in a better world and are committed to bringing it about – peacefully”
The play is on at the Peoples History Museum on 14 and 15 November For details see
No Glory in War have a conference in Manchester on 15 November further details see
The archive of the No Conscription Fellowship can be accessed at the Working Class Movement Library in Salford see
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