The Casa Theatre was packed to the brim on Tuesday 25th September for Cammell Lairds 37 – The Truth, Mike Howl’s extraordinary tale of the 1984 Cammell Laird’s strike and occupation, which culminated in the imprisonment of 37 striking ship workers, a miscarriage of justice that Eddie Marnell, one of the strike coordinators, and his colleagues have fought for 34 years to bring to light.
Cammell Lairds 37 – The Truth recounts the events of 1984 when, faced with a second round of 800 redundancies at the ship yard, workers at Cammell Laird voted to strike and this led to the occupation of a rig and frigate under construction. After four months of occupation, during which the workers and their families experienced many challenges and hardships, then having run out of water and with warnings made to them of special forces taking the installation by force, the group voted reluctantly to leave the rig, but as they were preparing to decamp, an injunction seeking removal of the occupying strikers from Cammell Laird was enforced by police who had surrounded the installations, leading to the arrest and imprisonment of all 37 workers at Walton Prison in solitary confinement for four weeks.
“What they did to us was a deterrent for the miners” Eddie explains to LVL after the show. Fearing occupation of the pits, the Tory government was determined to break the strikers at Cammell Laird and, as the ship workers suspected and subsequent events have shown to be correct, to ultimately force the shutdown of Cammell Laird. The despicable and underhand tactics of Thatcher’s government were laid bare as the sometimes heartbreaking experiences of the shipyard workers and their families were told in a powerful piece that didn’t hold its punches. After the show, Eddie Marnell came up on stage and paid tribute to those of the 37 who have passed away and vowed to continue his fight in their memory for justice and truth.
Cammell Lairds 37 – The Truth, returned to the stage for a one-night-only free performance supported by the GMB, is an entertaining, engaging and thought-provoking piece that made effective use of the Casa Theatre space occasionally incorporating ‘news footage’ on a projector centre stage to weave together a compelling exploration of the events that led to the ship workers’ imprisonment. On one side of the stage sat Thatcher and her cabinet mulling over their options to break the strike and on the other side, the workers and their wives standing firm and resolute in the face of immense pressure from the authorities.
Mike Howl, the writer and director of Cammell Lairds 37 – The Truth, who also plays Michael Heseltine in the production, is an award-winning Liverpool actor, writer and director who got into theatre at the age of 46 when this former market trader “woke up one morning, turned to my wife and said ‘I’ve decided I’m going to be an actor”! After performing in more than 200 shows, over the past ten years Mike Howl has turned to writing and directing, producing mainly biographical, funny and often hard-hitting pieces that depict significant figures or events which may be described as part of an otherwise hidden history. Football is also a favourite topic of Mike’s and his latest play Give the Fans Sweet FA is coming to Liverpool’s Royal Court Theatre from 20th to 24th November.
Superbly acted and directed, with a notably uncanny performance of Thatcher by Mikyla Durkan, Anthony Thompson as Eddie Marnell and Adam Byrne playing his fellow strike coordinator Billy Albertina, brought together by an all round excellent and accomplished cast of twelve, Cammell Lairds 37 – The Truth shines a light on a vital piece of Merseyside history and the Cammell Laird 37’s ongoing battle for justice.
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Images courtesy of Theatre at the Casa and Mark Snow