30 Days In Walton Jail

Written by Mark Yates and the GMB Writers Group
Novas Contemporary Urban Centre, Greenland Street
16th-18th October 2008

Reviewed by Ritchie Hunter

- The miners’ strike marks a turning point in working class history.
- Liverpool City Council comes into direct conflict with the Tory Government when an illegal budget' is set to maintain services.
- The IRA bombs the hotel in Brighton where Thatcher and most of her Cabinet was staying.

At the start of this play the Governor of Walton (john Gorman) goes through a list of crucial events of this year. There were so many that you may be forgiven for not remembering that thirty-seven workers were imprisoned for occupying a gas rig at Cammell Laird shipyards, to save their jobs.
But for those imprisoned, their family and friends, this miscarriage of justice has rankled ever since, leaving deep scars and a passion to put right this travesty. A group of them, with the help of their union the GMB, set about developing the script for a film called Rough Justice.

The comedy play 30 Days In Walton Jail also came out of this collaboration. It is centred on four of the thirty-seven, who go through the ordeal of surviving in the high security prison. They are brutally treated by a female warder (Lesley Butler) who - it transpires later - wants to toughen them up to help them cope with the brutality of the other inmates! She actually has a heart of gold, which is shown - we are told - by her and some of the other screws protecting the jailed strikers’ families from death threats.

There is lots of joke telling. Some are hilarious, some close to the knuckle, some make you cringe and others are very politically incorrect (well these are the dark days of 1984 when no-one had heard of equal rights!). The butt of most of this is a bizarre ‘over the top’ camp inmate, dressed in pink shorts, who appears in nearly every scene. Despite the skitting, he becomes a supportive friend of the four.

In amongst the slapstick, the pantomime and the amusing predictions of the character Crystal Ball (Will Cain), there are snippets of reality about problems the families are facing, and about the campaign for the release of the thirty-seven. There is one passionate speech by Chrissy (Simon O’Brien) about their betrayal by scabs and their abandonment by others in the trade union movement. We also hear of local MP Frank Field’s hostility to their cause. Apart from these examples though, there is little serious dialogue. Whenever a real issue comes up it is quickly defused by yet another joke. I guess this is intentional, and that the writers were determined to keep this play a comedy, in contrast to the heavier message that the film Rough Justice will carry. I can’t help but wonder though if this isn’t a missed opportunity to tell more of what was behind the government's treatment of these strikers: was it used as a deterrent to other workers in struggle, as was the case with the ‘Shrewsbury pickets’ ten years earlier (see Nerve 10).

It would be good to hear more about the government’s role in this story, and also about the campaign for justice for the strikers. We shall have to wait for the film, which is due for release in early 2010.

30 Days in Walton Jail ran over three nights in front of full houses. It was staged in the 450-seat theatre of NOVAS CUC, an extravagantly regenerated warehouse that sprawls along Parliament Street.

The Cast:

Simon O’Brien: Chrissy
Phillip Olivier: Bin Bagged
John Gorman: The Governor
Brian Regan: Anorexic
Chris Darwin: Cornflake
Jimmy Mulhearn: Eddie
Stephen Pinder: The Chaplain
Leanne Campbell: Trina
Lisa Dalton: Stella
Lesley Butler: The Warder, Hairy Arse
Will Cain: Crystal Ball
Gareth Cattouse: Cracker Pants

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Comment left by Helen Marks on 22nd October, 2008 at 17:56
Richie, I think this is an excellent review which places the event in context, explains what the strike was about and gives a balanced view of the play noting the positives and the missed opportunity to provide a more in depth analysis. Would it have helped to have added that they were detained for 30days but were never brought before the courts and charged with anything specific and that was part of the injustice. I hope I have got that right. Helen

Comment left by johno on 11th November, 2008 at 12:16
the idea to occupy the site was greeted with total euphotia and widely supported by the local community as the gas rig was aimed at cuba under blockade from USA in an exchange, deal the tory government riotpoliced the area preventing suport spilling over. sadly missed the play.whoops, but loved outwitting the coppers every other day to take stuff to the strikers,i think a couple of cp members especially the albertinas brothers were in charge, but it was two fingers up to thatcher all the way despite the attempt to starve them into submission like the miners. we overcame the obstatcles and gathered wide support for the cammell laird sit in. i think it roused people in cuba who warmed to us too.nothing is ever lost.later we occupied somewher ourselves.

Comment left by Frany on 23rd November, 2008 at 22:43
The play although obviously based on true events of October 1984 which was overshadowed by the miners strike. The objective was to highlight the fight for the ongoing fight for justice for the surviving jailed men and others. The objective of the lads who were jailed was to promote the forthcoming "Rough Justice" which will be more political. This is the reason the play was aimed at a wider audience of young and old and did not intend to be heavy in its politics. At the end of the day it was not a documentary, It was a comedy with the intentions of a twist of sadness making it a rollercoaster of emotions of laughter snd sadness. Which was achieved judging by the standing ovations that the production recieved. At the end of the day this was a writers workshop set up by the mens union GMB and it reached its aims and goals. By bringing the great injustice back into the public domain and more importantly introducing to the younger generation again this was fully achieved.

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