Review – We Will Be Free

Aug 14 2013 | By More

✭✭✭✭✩   Heartfelt, intelligent and entertaining

The Assembly Rooms (Venue 20) Fri 2– Sun 25 Aug 2013
Review by Hugh Simpson

We Will Be Free! is this year’s Fringe offering from Townsend Productions, who were responsible for last year’s excellent adaptation of The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists. This production, dealing with the story of the Tolpuddle Martyrs, is every bit as successful.

The tale of the Tolpuddle Martyrs is one of those that should probably be known by everybody; overheard conversations in the queue outside showed that it certainly isn’t.

Neil Gore and Elizabeth Eves in We Will Be Free. Photo: Kraig Winterbottom

Neil Gore and Elizabeth Eves in We Will Be Free. Photo: Kraig Winterbottom

They were a group of six Dorset agricultural labourers who formed a Friendly Society (in effect an early trade union) in order to combat the lowering of wages in the 1830s. They were arrested and transported to Australia, not for forming a union – which was not illegal – but under an obscure law forbidding the swearing of secret oaths.

Neil Gore (also responsible for the tremendous script) plays the labourers’ leader, Methodist lay preacher George Loveless. Elizabeth Eves plays his wife Betsy; both performers also take on a variety of other roles, adding accomplished singing and the playing of a variety of instruments. Louise Townsend and Richard Stone’s production makes use of live music, puppetry and projections alongside simple and effective staging.

The two performers have an evident rapport with each other and the audience. Gore’s winning charm means that he can turn a stumble over the words of a song into a positive, while Eves is heartbreaking as Betsy, sneakily calculating as the apparently gormless Edward Legge and theatrically evil as Squire Frampton, who bumptiously relishes the audience’s booing.

If this makes the performance sound like a pantomime, there is that element to it. This comes partly from the decision to frame the performance as a Mummers’ play. This proves very successful, as clever use is made of the identification of stock characters from that tradition with characters in this story.

The power of love and the importance of simple human dignity

Musical director John Kirkpatrick, that towering figure on the English folk scene, has also excelled himself. He has turned an apparent disadvantage – the lack of any surviving contemporary songs about the story – into an advantage, using scraps of traditional music to write his own material. The recurring song ‘Beneath The Sycamore Tree’ helps to anchor the story, as does the simple depiction of the sycamore itself as part of the versatile wooden set.

Neil Gore and Elizabeth Eves in We Will Be Free. Photo: Kraig Winterbottom

Neil Gore and Elizabeth Eves in We Will Be Free. Photo: Kraig Winterbottom

There is something deeply English about all of this, which the careful insistence that St George in the Mummers’ play represents ‘Britain’ does not dispel. But it also resonates with Scotland. There are definite echoes of the works of some of our touring politically-engaged companies of the past and their mixing of theatrical formats. And, of course, Newcraighall’s Bill Douglas made reference to a variety of Victorian entertainment media in Comrades, his telling of this same story and one of his sadly small number of completed films. Mostly, however, it is universal in scope, using a specific tale to demonstrate the power of love and the importance of simple human dignity.

This is a fast-paced, varied and hugely enjoyable production. Informative without being preachy, it should have a wide appeal. There is a carefully judged mix of humour and pathos, with laughs but also with a finale that brings a tear to the eye – the messages here are not just political. With a heart as big as the Assembly Rooms and a brain to match, this is magnificent entertainment. For an hour the audience were transported – although thankfully not in the same way as the Tolpuddle Martyrs.

Running time 1 hour 15 mins
Run ends sun 25 August 2013
Daily (not Mon 12) 12.30 pm
Venue 20, The Assembly Rooms, 54 George Street, EH2 2LR
Tickets from

We Will Be Free! The Tolpuddle Martyrs Story, continues on tour after the fringe and returns to Edinburgh on the 25th of October.

We Will be Free! Tolpuddle Martyrs Story – 2013 Tour
Full details on
Aug 2-25 Edinburgh Fringe Festival
The Ballroom, Assembly Rooms, 54 George Street, Edinburgh
12.30 pm
2-3 Aug £14 (£11 concessions)
4-25 Aug £15/£12 concessions £5 unwaged

30th August – The Seagull, Lowestoft
Tickets: £10.00/£8.00
Boxoffice: 01502589726

5th September – The Met, Bury
Tickets will be £10, £8 concessions
Box Office: 0161 7612216

8th September – TUC Conference
11th & 12th – (Dixon Studio) The Palace Southend – On- Sea8pm (Mat 12 Sep at 2.30pm)
Tickets: £12 (includes £1 building charge)
Box Office: 01702 351135

13th September- Helmsley Arts Centre
Box Office: 01439 771700
Tickets:£11 / £10 Concs / 6 tickets for £8 each

14th September Marsden Mechanics
Time: 8pm
Tickets: £11 (£9 Concs)
Box office: 01484 844587

19th – 21st September – Liverpool Lantern Theatre
Time: 7.30pm (Mat performance on 21 Sep at 2pm)
Tickets: £10.00/£8.00 conc./ 5.00 unwaged
Box Office: 0151 703 0000

22nd September– Thame Players Theatre
Tickets: £10.00/£9.00/£8.00
Box Office: Tickets Anywhere, Greyhound Walk, Thame. Tel: 01844 217228

25 th September – Haverhill Arts Centre, Suffolk
Time 7.30pm Tickets Tickets: £10, £8.00, £6.00 Concs
Box office:01440714140

27th – 28th September Vivacity, Peterborough
Tickets: £9.00 /£7.50
Box Office: 01733 864 776

2nd – 6th October – Arts Reach rural touring Dorset
Time: TBC
Venues: TBC
Tickets TBC

8th October – Plough Arts Centre, Great Torrington
Tickets: £11 Full /£9 Conc /£8 Supporters agreed (to include £1 to Plough Survival Fund)
Box Office: 01805 624624

9th – 12th October – Villages In Action, Devon
Time: TBC
Venues: TBC
Tickets TBC

13th – 15th October – Carn to Cove
Time: TBC
Venues: TBC
Tickets TBC

18th October – The Maltings Theatre and Cinema, Berwick – On – Tweed
Tickets: £12.50 (£11 concs, £6 child)
Box Office: 01297 442138

19th October – Rosehill Theatre, Whitehaven
Time: 7.30pm
Tickets: £12 & £6 Under 26.
BoxOffice: 01946692422

21st – 22nd October – Loganlea Miners Welfare Club, West Lothian
Time: 7.30pm
Tickets £10 (£5 unwaged)
Box office: 01501 763354

23rd October – Carnegie Hall, Dunfermline
Time: 7.30pm
Tickets:£10.50/£8.50 /
Box office: 01383 602302

24th October – Gilmorton Community Centre
Time: 7.30pm
Tickets: £5.00/ £3.00
Box Office: 01771 653229

25th October – North Edinburgh Arts
Time: 7.30pm
Tickets £8 full, £5 concession (£3 Good Neighbour)
Box office: 0131 315 2151

26 th October – Eastgate Arts Centre
Time: 7.30pm
Tickets £14 full, £12 concession (£5 Schoolchildren)
Box office: 01721 725 777

27th October – Eden Court, Inverness
Time: 7.30pm
Tickets: £11 (£9 conc – incl the £1 development fund levy)
Box office: 01463 234234

1st November- The Chilwell Arts Theatre , Beeston
Time: 7.30pm
Tickets: £10 / £6
Box office: 07861 308044

2nd November
The Soundwave Arts Centre, Worksop
Time: 7.30pm
Tickets: £10 / £6
Box office: 01909 474458

6th November – Norwich Arts Centre
Time: 7.45pm
Tickets: £11 (£9 concs)
Box office: 01603 660352

10th November – Wedgewood Rooms, Portsmouth
Time: 7.30pm
Tickets: £12/£10 conc/ £9.00 Trade union membership
Wedgewood Rooms 02392863911/Kings Theatre 0239 282 8282

13th & 14th November – Lighthouse, Poole
Time: 8pm
Tickets: £12 and £10 concessions plus a £7 schools ticket
Box office: 0844 4068666

15th – 16th November – Lantern theatre, Sheffield
Time: 7.30pm
Tickets: £10/£9
Box office: 0114 255 1776

17th November – Arden Theatre, Faversham
Time: 7.00pm
Tickets: £8
Box office: 01795 538385 or email:

21st November – Square Chapel, Halifax
Tickets: £11 & £9 concessions in advance, £12 & £10 on the day
Box office: 01422 349422

22nd & 23rd – Highlights rural touring
Time: TBC
Venues: TBC
Tickets TBC

29th & 30th November CLF Art Cafe AKA The Bussey Building, Peckham
Time: 7.30pm
Tickets: £10 (£8 concessions and £5 unwaged)
Box office: 020 7732 5275

We WIll be Free! 2014 tour

1st Feb – The Place Bedford

5th February- Brewery Arts Centre

6th – 8th Feb- Harrogate Theatre

12th Feb -The Arts Centre, Ormskirk

Edge Hill University

13th – 15th Feb – Live and Local

21st Feb – Bridport Arts Centre

22 Feb – Pember Heath Memorial Hall, Tudley

27th Feb – Shrewsbury Seven Theatre


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