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Captain Swing

THE VICTORIAN

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CAPTAIN  SWING

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Darkness suddenly falls, and with it, silence. Over there, a face, a tragic, awful anonymous face, is struck into life by a single beam of light.
" I suppose you have all come to see something uplifting", the face says, scornfully. A second face, melancholy, cynical, dark-ringed eyes set in a deathly pallor, springs into being—" We call ourselves the Faceless Ones . . . One of us may be sitting next to you at this very moment".
Down here, packed elbow to elbow in the darkness, we shiver with a real foreboding. As comprehension slowly dawns, we realise that we are in the presence of the force of evil, the dark side which, Jung insists, lies at the back of every human mind.
The awesome masks are doused in darkness; voices spill out, lights spring up everywhere, crowds, colour, costume; somewhere in the midst, a drunken slut, of uncertain virtue, raises her bottle and her voice in a quaint, sad song.
For the moment, we have almost forgotten that we are sitting in the audience watching the boys of Queen Victoria School acting in a play.
But this is no ordinary play Captain Swing was written for the boys of Bristol Grammar School by Michael Barwis, one of their own teachers. It is loosely based on the Bristol Riots of 1831, when a hard-pressed working class, over-worked, ill-housed.

"starving in the midst of plenty", pinned too much hope on the magical banner of Reform. However, the author went further than this, and tried to portray the dilemma of the man who owes allegiance to a cause, but cannot believe that his adversary is evil, or beyond the reach of reasoned argument. This is a rather difficult concept for a young cast to put across; that they succeeded says a lot for their skill, imagination and involvement in the action.
There was much that is memorable in this play— Matthew Dinely, the central, tragic figure, the radical schoolmaster who tries and fails to control the violence of the mob; Lt. Colonel Devoran, the military man who cannot bring himself to use force against people already repressed; the superbly funny gaoler, perhaps funnier than even the author envisaged, a comic character realised in the true Shakespearian manner; and of course the masks, the sinister chorus, whose accusing voices still rang in our ears as we groped our way home.
The crowd scenes were especially effective in this production, and were splendidly managed. We are not sure whether this is a particularly sought-after compliment among the cast—but these boys make magnificent women! From the inebriated Mrs Tucker, the gin-shop proprietress, to the stricken Mrs Stonner, the female characters were played with unselfconscious aplomb.

 

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