We Are The Lions, Mr Manager – Review – Square Chapel Arts Centre, Halifax
By @Steve Crabtree, March 2018
The Copper Auditorium at the Square Chapel, Halifax is a perfect, intimate setting for the two-person-cast production of We are the Lions, Mr Manager, from Townsend Productions.
The play is the story of Jayaben Desai. Orchestrator of the Grunwick strike of the mid-70s, and her plight against draconian and unfair working conditions for her and her workmates.
We begin with a simple set, the office of the Grunwick Photographic Processing Mail Order Department. And it’s here where Jayaben Desai (Medhavi Patel) enters the stage, arriving in London in 1967 to a place that is not what she has imagined.
“A gasp from the audience”
Projected across the back wall of the office we see India. Mrs Desai explains her background, and her growing up during the fight for freedom from British colonial power. And as we learn she settles in Wembley as a British Citizen with her family and takes a job at the Grunwick factory, the story begins to take shape.
Mr Gore is Desai’s manager – and the office bully. Played superbly by Neil Gore, his treatment of his workers is nothing short of repulsive. With overtime compulsory, and without notice, we see Desai stand up to Alden’s management style. His comment about them being monkeys brings about a gasp from the audience. It also brings anger from Mrs Desai, as she delivers the line: “We are the lions, Mr Manager!” It’s then that she leads her fellow workers – mostly immigrant women – to strike for union recognition.
It’s a political play, with an incredibly serious undertone surrounding it. Gore and Patel play a small number of roles, but Patel’s passion for the role of Desai – a distant relative of hers – is clear. The placid, the friendly, the defiant and the angry side of her is all expertly portrayed.
“Powerful and makes us take note”
But despite the line of the story, there is fantastic injections of light-hearted humour that puts those watching at ease. There’s a certain amount of ad-libbing (which is very clever), and we feel part of the production when we sign a petition that’s handed round. Some of us get up to join the picket line, although they are quickly removed by Gore’s policeman.
It’s also worth giving praise to Gore for his musical input in to the show. Whether he played guitar, accordion or sang, it was a very tasteful inclusion in to the performance. A recurring rendition of ‘Hold The Line, Again’ gave us another piece of enjoyable audience participation.
Directed by Louise Townsend, the production makes us laugh, but is powerful and make us take note. The ending sees an impassioned Medhavi Patel moved to tears, as the defiant and determined fight comes to an end for Desai.
We Are The Lions is a brilliant production. Superbly executed, and in a very well-chosen venue that has the audience members feeling very much like part of the story.