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ENGELS CONDITION OF THE WORKING CLASS MOVIE
 

Star date: 7th April 2013

FRED ENGELS: THE MOVIE OF THE THEATRE RE-MAKE

This week, as millionaires get tax cuts and the poor get the Bedroom Tax, it was fitting that the film of the making of the theatre re-make of Friedrich Engels' The Condition of the Working Class was premiered almost around the corner from the revolutionary's old mill in Weaste.

Has anything changed since Fred first exposed The Condition of the Working Class in 1844? As if!

Full details here…


Engels The Condition of the Working Class Engels The Condition of the Working Class
click image to enlarge

At a lunchtime rally on Friday, striking civil servants heard Manchester Trades Council's Geoff Brown talk of "an attack unparalleled in our lifetime" on terms and conditions for people at work, and on the benefit system whereby society is supposed to look after its most vulnerable.

In the afternoon, angry Bedroom Tax protesters converged on the Salford Quays offices of social landlord Contour, petitioning them to re-classify homes and campaigning against future evictions.

And in the evening, came the perspective of a mad week that has seen tax cuts for the very rich, and benefit cuts for the very poor. Has anything actually changed since 1844?

That was the year that Friedrich Engels published his expose of The Condition of the Working Class in England, which, basically showed in graphic terms how the poor lived in the world's first industrial city, and how the rich exploit everyone and everything in sight to grow their wealth. So has anything changed?

Engels worked at his family's Victoria Mill in Weaste, so it was fitting that a re-examination of his observations should be kick-started at Salford Arts Theatre, less than a mile away from the original mill site.

A group of working class people of all ages were brought together to look at Engels' original text and creatively react to it for the 21st Century. In just eight weeks they produced a performance based upon their reactions, and it was premiered on stage at the Salford Arts Theatre last summer to critical acclaim.

Reviewing the show, the Salford Star wrote… "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).

Friday night saw the premiere of the documentary about the making of the play, following the cast's reactions from first reading the text, to fitting it to their lives and coming up with the sketches, songs and tirades that were slapped on stage in the final powerful performance.

It was almost the cast laying out the economic car crashes of their lives – one girl, in tears tells how she had to put up with nine months of `spanking' from her boss because it was either that "or starve". Another bloke recalls how, the morning after the night Thatcher got elected, management in the factory where he worked lined up to tell the workforce "It's our turn now"…

The behind the scenes reality shots give context to the play. Even though the majority of the audience at the premiere hadn't even seen the original performance, they still seemed transfixed by the process of its creation.

In the film, producers Mike Wayne and Deirdre O'Neill also took extracts from the original Engels text out onto the streets of Salford and Manchester to see what the modern working class thought of it all, and these ended up almost as punctuation marks in the movie. Mostly exclamation marks!

The film begins with a random woman interviewed in the street saying "They don't give a damn, not for the working class…The rich are getting richer, and the poor are getting poorer…"

On Eccles Precinct, two old men sat on a bench remember what it was like before Thatcher… "She shut the pits, the engineering works…everything's gone"… They look around and all that's left are pound shops.

Over in Moss Side, a woman who runs Angie's Shoes is in tears… "Everyone's struggling around here" she explains, with the giant Hulme ASDA having seen off most small businesses. Elsewhere, firemen nod at Engels' description of the bourgeoisie, and ace poet Mike Garry pops up in a cameo talking of Cash Generators and cash point charging rip offs in working class areas. And it's all done to the top Engels soundtrack by Salford band Trojan Horse.
 
The most poignant piece in the film though, is an old black and white clip from the birth of the NHS and Welfare State, with a stern voiceover proclaiming that "The foundations of happiness should be available to all..."

As the film shows, those foundations are now being bulldozed – and it's back to days of Engels and poverty, with a bullet. Some of the cast's quotes say it all…

"Any changes are superficial – the issue id the divide: those who have very little and those who have everything…"

"Only the technology has changed"

"Engels wrote about how people were treated like animals, herded around. It's the same…"

"I'm here, because I'm angry…"

After the well received screening of the film, there was a short Question and Answer session with the producers and cast. Someone asked whether they had seen all the new definitions and sectors of class that had been widely reported in the media that day.

"Nothing's changed" replied cast member Michael "It's all a load of bollocks!"


For more information on the project see www.conditionoftheworkingclass.info

For more info on Fred Engels in Salford see the Salford Star Engels Special - click here for Part 1 and follow the links

Further screenings taking place at…

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/

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