Unity Theatre

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					Unity Theatre

 A brief insight …
 Unity Theatre (one still exists) was part
  of a national theatre movement that once
  played an important role in the theatrical
  and political life of the UK. The Unity
  Theatre movement included 250 groups
  before the Second World War.

 Unity Theatres aimed to make theatre
  accessible to 'the great mass of the
  people' both through production, acting,
  writing and as audience and to use
  theatre as a political instrument to bring
  'new strength to the progressive
After World War II, 50 branches were
closely organised within the Unity Theatre
Society Limited. The movement was
largely amateur and sought to serve the
broad labour movement.

There were just two professional
companies in London and Glasgow.
The Unity Theatres movement
grew as a direct response to the
theatre censorship being
exercised as directed by the Lord

The theatres were in fact clubs which formed
in large numbers all over the country. Plays
had to be licensed and some Unity Theatre
fell foul of the Lord Chamberlain more than
From 1737 until 1968,
the Lord Chamberlain
also had the role of
licensor of plays. This
role made the Lord
Chamberlain effectively
the official censor of
theatrical performances,
of the production
content as well as for
logistical matters.
 The law required scripts to be submitted
  for approval. Formation of a theatre club
  normally allowed plays that had been
  banned for their language or subject
  matter to be performed under 'club'
 One of the catalysts for a change in the
  law was the prosecution in 1965 of
  Edward Bond's play Saved, staged at the
  Royal Court Theatre under "club"
  auspices. In this play, a baby is stoned to
  death. Bond refused to remove this
  scene, stating it was integral to the
  meaning. The group performing this play
  was taken to court and found guilty.
  Laurence Olivier spoke passionately in
  court in their defence.

 They continued to defy the censors and a
  year later, the law was changed.
 The Unity Theatre movement, along with
  many theatre clubs, started to disappear
  with the abolition of licensing as
  mainstream theatres were more able to
  meet the demand for radical theatre.
Glasgow Unity Theatre was formed in
1941 from various amateur clubs in
Glasgow - the Workers' Theatre
Group, the Clarion Players, the
Transport Players and the Glasgow
Jewish Institute players.

It was committed to a socialist
viewpoint and it hoped to attract a
working class audience.
In 1946 the Glasgow Unity Theatre
began a run of The Gorbals Story,
perhaps the most famous play
about Glasgow ever written, at the
Queen's Theatre;
the play was seen
by thousands before
it finally reached London and was
made into a film.
                     Glasgow Unity first performed
                     Ena Lamont Stewart's Men
                     Should Weep at the Athenaeum
                     Theatre, Glasgow on 30 January

Russell Hunter
                     They toured the play to
started his career   Edinburgh and London with great
with Glasgow         success.
After the war an attempt was made to form
a professional company but financial
difficulties drew this venture to a close.

Glasgow Unity disbanded in 1951.
 After the Glasgow Unity company closed
  in 1951, men Should Weep fell into
  obscurity until John McGrath staged a
  rewritten version for 7:84 (Scotland)'s
  1982 Clydebuilt Season. The long
  absence of this play from the public
  arena is remarkable considering that it
  provided a major theatrical landmark for
  the representation of Scottish, class and
  gender identities.

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