Last year, the Salford Star reviewed the stunning play based on the reactions of local working class people to Friedrich Engels' expose of The Condition of the Working Class in 1844…
`They creatively fired the revolutionary's words back to life for 2012, via Cameron, Salford Quays, councils, developers, bankers, bosses and a brilliant torrent of abuse at all those who have brought yesterday's poverty back to today…' (see full review here)
For anyone who still doesn't know, Fred Engels was the most famous/ infamous person who ever breathed in Salford. By day he worked at his dad's Victoria Mill in Weaste. By night, he'd tour working class districts of Salford and Manchester with his partner, Mary Burns.
The expose of disgusting exploitation he found was revealed in his book The Condition of the Working Class in England, so incendiary it wasn't published in England for fifty years.
Meanwhile, Fred used to meet his mate Karl Marx on a regular basis in Salford and Manchester, and the pair wrote the Communist Manifesto, Das Kapital and loads more which eventually fired revolutions all over the world (see here for Salford Star Engels Special).
The Mill now has the M602 running through the middle of it – but Engels' words live on.
"When we read The Condition of the Working Class in England we were amazed and shocked at how relevant it remained to our own time" say directors Mike Wayne and Deirdre O'Neill who have made the whole project around the 2012 play into a drama doc film
"Engels' denunciation of the condition of the working class at the dawn of industrial capitalism identified the fundamental structural power relationships which have endured despite all the changes that have undoubtedly occurred over the last 170 odd years" they add.
The film follows how a group of local people, who had never done proper acting before, came together with just eight weeks to make a play, and eight weeks to `get' Engels.
"When people first read Engels, they had a common response, an immediate sense of recognising that for all the many differences between 1844 and now, there were these fundamental continuities and that in many ways the book could have been written in the last few years" Mike and Deirdre explain "We didn't really have to work at that at all, people saw it immediately as they read the book."
The film portrays the development of the play, which started with no script and only Engels' text as a reference point, to the finished performance. It also uses archive footage to put it all in perspective, and goes out onto the streets of Manchester and Salford asking people if they've ever heard of the legend that is Freddy Engels…
"We were surprised to find how few people had heard of Engels and how little there was in these cities registering the fact that he had lived and worked there" the directors say "We did find a block of flats in Eccles that is named after him, but most of the residents we asked did not know who Engels was.
"However, when we asked them to read his words from the same booklet the cast were working with, again, on the spot, people were able to make sense of what he was saying and how it related to their own lives" they add "It therefore says more about the kind of education system we have than the people themselves, that there was so little popular recognition of him."
The film, not only looks at Engels' expose of the 1840s, it fast forwards to the 1940s, and the birth of the Welfare State that was so going to alleviate such poverty…
"In some ways it is relevant to return to the nineteenth century, to Engels, because that is what neo-liberalism is doing" say the directors "It is releasing capital from all of the social obligations which were put upon it for a good chunk of the middle part of the last century. That is all going now. So we also contextualise the rehearsals and the show in relation to the struggles going on now, in this particular moment as the Welfare State is dismantled and people are left to fend for themselves again."
In 1844, Engels also wrote of overcrowding with Bedroom Tax undertones - "how sick and well sleep in the same room, in the same bed…" – and understood food poverty, with all the connotations for the current horse meat scandal… "The workers get what is too bad for the property-holding class…"…usually `adulterated' goods, from mislabelled meat, to unpure tobacco and clothes that are stretched and shrink after the first washing… "the lion's share of the evil results of these frauds falls to the workers."
Fred Engels – so `out', he's `in'?
"The book in conjunction with the experience of doing the play certainly did have an effect on the participants" say Mike and Deirdre "For some of the older members, it was about renewing an earlier sense of political commitment that had been somewhat ground down by the right wing onslaught of the last thirty years or so. For the younger members of the cast, doing the show and reading Engels was their first real opportunity to make sense of their experiences within a political framework.
"It was also fascinating to see the process of recognition take place across the generations" they add " as experiences which the older members of the cast had, chimed in with those of the younger generation."
If the play was anything to go by, this film will be in the `Don't miss!' category.
Meanwhile, Engels books are there for anyone to read - and see if it all still relates and resonates in 2013…
Inside Film presents an UnResigned Production
The Condition of the Working Class
A film by Mike Wayne and Deirdre O'Neill
Friday 5th April 7:30pm
Salford Arts Theatre £3
Click here to book tickets and for further information on Salford Arts Theatre
More details of the film at www.conditionoftheworkingclass.info
Further screenings are taking place at…
Saturday April 6th: PEOPLE'S HISTORY MUSEUM , Manchester, 2.pm. http://www.phm.org.uk/
Saturday April 20th: MINERS COMMUNITY CENTRE , Moston, 7.30pm. http://www.smallcinema.re-dock.org/category/films
Thursday April 25th: MANCHESTER UNIVERSITY, The John Casken Lecture Theatre, Martin Harris Centre, 5pm.
Sunday April 28th: CROSS STREET CHAPEL, Cross Street, Manchester, M2 1NL. 2pm.
Wednesday May 15th: THE WORKING CLASS MOVEMENT LIBRARY , Salford, 2pm. http://www.wcml.org.uk/