The Story of Unity Theatre by Colin Chambers - review by Christine Eccles

Christine Eccles

Community Party

The Story of Unity Theatre


Lawrence & Wishart 402pp £17.95 order from our bookshop

What do Paul Robeson, Vera Lynn, Michael Redgrave, George Bernard Shaw, Maxine Audley, ‘Mrs Dale’s Diary’, Arthur Askey and Lionel Bart all have in common? No, they didn’t feature in ITV’s recent ‘Twenty One Years of Entertainment’. These rather unlikely companions were people who at some time or another found themselves sucked into Unity Theatre’s orbit.

The ‘class against class’ policies overturned at the 1936 Comintern’s seventh congress gave way to ideas of a united left to fight the main enemy – fascism. The Peace Ballot campaign in Britain produced well over ten million votes for disarmament. Popular Front strategies dominated oppositional politics and an unprecedented cultural movement with Unity at its epicentre mobilised around the left. A new attitude towards the middle classes developed, ‘especially the intellectuals who were no longer seen as the infected bearers of bourgeois poison.’ The Reds, evidently, were like the Greens de nos jours.

Unity Theatre united a number of disparate groups and individuals inside its much-loved building in Goldington Street. The conversion of this old Methodist Chapel – an inspirational example of collective effort – is recounted as affectionately as Peter Weir’s moving film account of the Amish community building a house in

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