The Public Reviews’ Rich Jevons talks to Bradford playwright Javaad Alipoor about his new show with Northern Lines, The Rising of the Moon, playing as part of this year’s Bradford Festival.
For people who aren’t aware of Chartists, could you explain their aims and intentions?
Chartists were a series of uprisings in Bradford that culminated in a great uprising of 1842. The Charter was a petition for democracy, including votes for all; universal male suffrage; equal constituency sizes; and a wage for MPs. It started as a social movement which went through a period of ‘moral’ force, with the idea that the correctness of the argument and moral position would win the day. But time and time again their petitions were rejected by Parliament despite the support of millions of people. The Chartist movement moved from ‘moral’ force to ‘physical’ force.
As a result, a series of insurrections were arranged at different times and there was a national general strike. There was afamous large scale armed rebellion called the Newport Rising where a large group of Chartists marched on a police station holding Chartist prisoners. They were dealt with very severely by the state, so much so, that the last people in Britain to be sentenced to be hung, drawn and quartered was at the Newport rising.However, after much public outcry, their sentences were commuted to transportation.
What would you say is the Chartist’s legacy?
What’s interesting, is that apart from the demand for annual parliament, all their demands were met by the Second World War. There is a certain irony that even though themovement was defeated, what they were fighting for eventually came to pass. The Chartists were the first time the working classes found a form of political organisation, before them it wasonly the Whigs and Tories, both of whom represented capitalism and served the needs of the landed gentry and aristocracy. Forty years after the defeat of the Chartists, the Manningham Mills strike took place in Bradford, which brought about thebeginnings of trade unionism and the Independent Labour Party.
How have you gone about making a play about the Chartists?
We did a lot of community workshops and talked about what a People’s Charter for today might look like and tied them into the ideas of the Chartists. I started writing the play just before Christmas last year and worked with a couple of local historians who looked at family trees, pamphlets and books. We have one larger-than-life real historical character in the production called Isaac Jefferson, who is surrounded by legends. One, for example is that his arms were so big, the police couldn’t get handcuffs around them! The rest of the characters are fictional and built them out of different composites of historical characters.
And what form will the show take?
The show starts with the audience gathering outside the Pavilion café, at which point they’ll be met by two of our community actors. Then the guides will take the audience around various city centre locations where other actors from the professional company will bring those spaces to life!
What would you like the audience to take away with them?
I think Bradford has got an epic history as well as an epic city centre and I think sometimes as the people of Bradford, we let that slip through our fingers. There are some cities that are very confident, but in Bradford we are less so. One of the big points for me is to show people the epic nature of our ancestors. It is also interesting to look at how much society has changed; how different is our life now than in the 19th Century.
The Rising of the Moon plays at Bradford Festival on 13 and 14 June, meet outside the Pavilion Cafe 16:30or 19:00, see website for more information.