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
the official censor of
of the production
content as well as for
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
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
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