ARTICLE FOR THE MORNING STAR
Copyright Peter and Ann Frost 2013
A play tailor-made
for Trades Unionists.
Peter Frost talks to communist playwright Ian Buckley whose play The Tailors’ Last Stand opens in London on Feb 19 for a three week run.
The snow was thick outside when I met communist playwright Ian Buckley last weekend. Before the interview we listened to the morning news.
It announced that despite all the best hopes and bluster from Osborne, Cameron and Clegg, Britain was still not just in the economic mire but probably heading for a triple dip recession.
Ian’s new play is set five years ago in 2009. In another snowy January that year came the official announcement that Britain had just gone into that recession.
Ian’s play doesn’t deal with these big issues directly. His is a close-up look at four old London tailors; all communists and two of them Jewish. They are gathering in Bethnal Green Labour Party Rooms.
It’s the final meeting of the Members and Spouses of the GMB, London Branch but for them, each after well over half a century of membership, their union will always be the good old NUTGW – the National Union of Tailor and Garment Workers. Max, Barney, Tom and George come together to perform the last rites over their beloved union branch and consign it to history.
So where did Ian Buckley get his story?
It’s my dad’s story.” Ian explained “My father Ernie is the inspiration for one of the characters. “Dad is now 93 and all his working life he created expensive suits. “He worked in far from salubrious workshops in Soho but the suits he made were sold for thousands of guineas by the posh tailors of Savile Row.
“My play is about four lovable rogues, one of whom happens to be my dad. “They all share the same political ideal but trying to follow it creates total comic mayhem. This last union meeting is meant to be a solemn affair but things don’t go to plan. A chance remark and suddenly all hell breaks loose. Instead of bidding a sad farewell to a life of struggle they’re up to their necks in unforeseen events and dodgy stories.”
“But for all the comic twists and turns,” Ian says, “I hope the play shows the real affection these men have for each other and for their union and the nostalgia that grips them as they say that final goodbye. My play is a memory and a tribute to them”.
Playwright Buckley is no stranger to communist ideas. Still politically active, Ian now spends much of his time across the channel where he works with the Communist Party of France. “I love the fact they still have huge marches and demonstrations. I love the sight of all those red hammer and sickle banners.”
He tells the story of how proud his communist parents were when he won an Exhibition to Christ’s College, Cambridge. “I was the first student from a state comprehensive to enter the hallowed portals of Christ's College where I gained an Honours degree in English Literature. He sounded just as proud to explain “I am also the first lad from one of those comprehensives to gain a soccer blue. I played at Wembley against Oxford.”
An MA at Kent University on Sean O’Casey followed and convinced Ian to become a playwright himself.
Alongside a career teaching drama and writing at colleges and university he has seen his plays produced on BBC Radio, at numerous fringe theatres and even in a dockers’ social club. In fact one of his plays - The Revolutionary - based on a communist second-hand car dealer was broadcast both on BBC Radio 4 and on German radio, Hessischer Rundfunk.
Today, although the Tailors’ old union forms part of the mighty GMB, the union has never forgotten its historic roots. It is assisting the play financially and taking over the whole theatre for a special performance for GMB members on the 23rd January.
In the audience will be GMB General Secretary Paul Kenny who in earlier days with the union had the responsibility for the Tailoring section. Paul worked closely with, and became a great friend of, Ernie Buckley.
“Me and my dad are both proud and delighted that his union is getting behind the play,” said Ian.
Ian Buckley’s The Tailors Last Stand opens on February 19 until March 10, 7.30 pm; Sundays 6.30 pm; matinees March 2 & 9, 2.30 pm at the Barons Court Theatre, The Curtains Up pub, 28a Comeragh Road, London W14 9HR Box Office: 020 8932 4747.
Alternative slightly shorter boxed copy
Ian Buckley’s The Tailors Last Stand opens on February 19 until March 10. at the Barons Court Theatre, The Curtains Up pub, 28a Comeragh Road, London W14 9HR Box Office: 020 8932 4747.