A groundbreaking folk opera featuring original songs and music by revered folk musician John Kirkpatrick is on its way to Yorkshire.
Rouse Ye Women! tells the story of the Black Country women of the early 1900s who spent their entire lives making chains. They had no vote, were largely illiterate, worked a 54-hour week for ‘starvation wages’, and had to take their children to work.
But in the autumn of 1910 hundreds of the women chainmakers of Cradley Heath held a ten-week strike led by the remarkable trade union organiser and campaigner Mary Macarthur. They won a minimum wage doubling their incomes and returned to work confident that, by sticking together in a union, they could stand up to the chain masters and companies.
Rouse Ye Women! is a folk-song opera that shares the story of the workers and campaigners through rousing, heartfelt traditional song and music. Written by John Kirkpatrick (The Albion Band, Steeleye Span) and Neil Gore, directed by Louise Townsend, designed by Elizabeth Wright and with lighting design by Daniella Beattie, it is performed by Bryony Purdue, Rowan Godel and Neil Gore.
Louise Townsend says: “The focus is not just the massive achievement of the women in their fight, but also how Mary Macarthur and the National Federation of Women Workers, of which she was a founding member, sought to challenge the prevailing view that women made poor trade unionists, were a threat to male employment and wages, and were generally unorganisable.
“Mary herself wanted trade unions to educate women workers to be better citizens, empower them to demand more from life and gain fair treatment as workers; to ensure that women can be an effective force within the trade union movement to strengthen the position of the entire industrial working class.
"We will aim to draw parallels with the inequalities in the lives of women just over a hundred years ago with modern issues of family life, low pay, the minimum wage, the gender pay gap and equality of opportunity.”
Neil Gore said: "The story is truly inspirational, centering Mary’s energy and, and her skills as an organiser and tactician. She came to be admired by her trade union and socialist comrades as well as those in positions of power. Most importantly, she gained the trust of the women she so skilfully organised and represented.
"She lived a thrilling, breathless life sustained with unfaltering courage and determination to achieve; she was cool and persuasive in argument and possessed immense good humour and common sense. We aim to celebrate her enormous achievements and her all-too-often-overlooked legacy.”
John Kirkpatrick said: “The songs and music are inspired in large part by traditional industrial folk song, music hall, and protest songs, as well as from projects created within the folk revival period of the 1960s and ‘70s, themselves based on direct links with traditional music of the past, with a modern, contemporary twist. Through new rousing songs and moving ballads we aim to tell the story of the strike by reflecting, imitating and embellishing the styles of music that were most significant to those who struggled to make it a success.”
Rouse Ye Women can be seen at
Seven Arts Chapel, Allerton, Leeds on Thursday March 21 and Friday March 22 at 7.30PM
Tickets: 0113 262 6777
Square Chapel Halifax, Saturday March 23
Tickets: 01422 349422
Stephen Joseph Theatre, McCarthy studio Friday April 5 at 7.45pm
Tickets: 01723 370541 or via the website: www.sjt.uk.com