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Caroline Bird's new play Red Ellen to premiere at Northern Stage before touring

Red Ellen by Caroline Bird title treatment design - image credit Velcrobelly
Red Ellen by Caroline Bird title treatment design - image credit Velcrobelly

Caroline Bird’s new play Red Ellen will premiere at Northern Stage this March.

From multi award-winning poet and playwright Caroline Bird, Red Ellen tells the remarkable story of Ellen Wilkinson, the revolutionary Labour MP who fought with an unstoppable, reckless energy for a better world.

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Wils Wilson will direct the premiere at Northern Stage (25 March – 9 April) ahead of touring to Nottingham (13-30 April), Edinburgh (4-21 May) and York (24-28 May)

A working-class woman in a man’s world, Ellen Wilkinson campaigned tirelessly for social change – bringing in free school meals and leading the Jarrow March from the North East to London through York, Nottingham and the Midlands to deliver a petition to reduce unemployment and poverty.

She was the only female minister in Attlee’s government, and served as a vital member of Churchill’s cabinet, taking sole charge of air raid shelters during the war. Further afield, she campaigned for Britain to aid the fight against Franco’s Fascists in Spain, battled to save Jewish refugees in Nazi Germany and published some of the first anti-fascist literature in the UK.

Running (often quite literally) into the likes of Albert Einstein and Ernest Hemingway, she had affairs with communist spies and government ministers. But, despite all of this, she still found herself – somehow – on the outside looking in.

Caroline Bird said: “Ellen was a complex person by anyone’s standards and she never stopped, but despite her herculean efforts, she is largely forgotten by history. The irony, of course, about ‘forgotten women of history’ is invariably the facts of their lives turn out to be acutely memorable: they’re not forgotten because they’re forgettable.

“I’ve been living with Ellen Wilkinson in my head for about six years now and I can honestly say, after writing this play, Ellen has done the impossible: she has given me back a glimmer of faith in politics. We need politicians like Ellen… and we also need to look after them, and support them. She failed at so many things, and yet she was a total, stonking, miraculous, life-affirming, bloody wonderful triumph. A bright and particular star. I hope that some of Ellen’s light can still reach us all the way down here, and that this play might reignite a spark or two.”

Bettrys Jones will play Ellen Wilkinson. The rest of the cast are Helen Katamba who plays Ellen’s sister, Annie Wilkinson; Laura Evelyn plays British Communist activist Isabel Brown; Sandy Batchelor plays Czech agent Otto Katz; Kevin Lennon plays Labour politician and Leader of London County Council Herbert Morrison; Mercedes Assad plays Mr Ansley, a representative for the Jarrow Labour Exchange; and Jim Kitson plays David – a local man from Jarrow.

Director Wils Wilson, whose last production was the critically acclaimed Life is a Dream at The Lyceum, added: “I am excited to be telling Ellen’s story – she had an incredible life and achieved so much, against the odds. Her story deserves to be known far and wide and I’m very happy to be part of bringing her to a wider public.

“I’m also very excited to work on Caroline’s brilliant script – it’s full of life, compassion and humour. Ellen’s life was a whirl of action and passion and the play takes the audience on quite a ride.”

Set and costume design is by Linbury Prize-winning designer Camilla Clarke who has worked with the Royal Court, Gate Theatre, Leeds Playhouse, Soho Theatre, The Unicorn Theatre and the Royal Lyceum Theatre. Music and sound design is by Jasmin Kent Rodgman whose music and live productions have been performed across the UK and internationally with partners including London Fashion Week, World Music Festival Shanghai, Edinburgh International Festival, Wilderness Festival, Roundhouse, Shoreditch Town Hall, Barbican, Oxford Playhouse and the Royal Albert Hall. The Felling Male Voice Choir will perform the Jarrow March song written by Jasmin Kent Rodgman with lyrics by Caroline Bird. Lighting design is by Kai Fischer (The Hour We Knew Nothing of Each Other/Royal Lyceum Theatre). Movement direction is by Patricia Suarez (Orpheus in the Record Shop/Leeds Playhouse and BBC), and intimacy director is Vanessa Coffey. Bex Bowsher is RTYDS Resident Assistant Director on the Regional Theatre Young Director Scheme.

For more information or to book tickets visit northernstage.co.uk


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