The workers roar back in Townsend Theatre’s defiant We Are The Lions, Mr Manager

Townsend Theatre is to tour the country with Neil Gore’s searing new play We Are The Lions, Mr Manager, which tells the story of one woman’s campaign for justice at work.

Directed by Louise Townsend, We Are The Lions relives the extraordinary true story of the Grunwick Strike, a dispute that challenged the way women and immigrants are treated in the workplace.

In August, 1976, a group of workers in a film processing factory in Willesden walked out in protest at their unfair working conditions, low pay and the ‘bullying tactics’ used by management.

Strike leader Jayaben Desai

Led by mostly East African Asian women, the Grunwick strike became one of the longest and most important industrial disputes in British history, and changed the way trade unions thought about race and new immigrant communities coming to Britain in the 1970s.

The women became known as the “strikers in saris” and their fight for fair treatment was supported by thousands of trade unionists and campaigners as more than 20,000 people joined them at the picket lines.

But the story of the Grunwick dispute is not just a story about ground-breaking solidarity, it is also the story of a remarkable woman, Jayaben Desai.

The 4’10” tall mother-of-two, who died in 2010, defiantly led the first walk-out in protest against the humiliation she and other women employees felt at the Grunwick factory.

As she left, the manager shouted at Jayaben and her colleagues to “stop chattering like monkeys in a zoo.”

Jayaben replied: “What you are running here is not a factory, it is a zoo. But in a zoo there are many types of animals.

“Some are monkeys who dance on your finger-tips, others are lions who can bite your head off. We are the lions, Mr manager!”

Jayaben became the leader of the Grunwick Strike and not only stood up for workers’ rights but she also turned the dispute into a national movement for human rights, inspiring future generations and challenging the way people perceived Asian women.

Now, Jayaben’s story is being brought to life for the very first time by Townsend Theatre Productions seeking to relive the strikers’ inspirational fight for freedom, equality and human dignity.

Written by Neil Gore, the play will tell the story of the Grunwick dispute through a mixture of song, poetry, movement and dance, and the play will utilise the theatre company’ trademark cast of two characters playing multiple roles.

Neil said: “In our work we aim to focus on the lives and contributions of inspirational and vital figures from our social history, often forgotten, who campaigned vigorously to improve the quality of life for everyone.

“Jayaben Desai is one such figure. She tirelessly fought on behalf of immigrant workers against exploitative employment practice and she fearlessly faced all the elements of establishment authority.

“She also alerted many in the trade union movement to the issues of vulnerability of immigrant workers and highlighted the fight to maintain basic trade union rights.

“Her resolve and courage should be remembered and celebrated.

“Also, Grunwick raised many wide-ranging questions about trade unionism, rights in the workplace and dignity at work – themes that still resonate and are relevant today.”

The new play will start the first leg of its national tour in Bedford in October. The play will be performed in cities around the country including Leeds, Salford, Glasgow, Liverpool, London and Oxford before finishing in Bedford next April.

2017 tour dates

October 14, (Preview) The Place, Bedford
October 18, Chilwell Arts Centre, Beeston, Nott’m
October 19, Seven Art Space, Leeds
October 20/21, The Working Class Movement Library, Salford
October 25, Blantyre Miners’ Welfare, South Lanarkshire
October 26, Dundee – venue TBC
October 27, North Edinburgh Arts, Pilton
October 29, Eastwood Park Theatre, Giffnock, Glasgow
October 31, Severn Theatre, Shrewsbury
November 1, Guildhall Theatre, Derby
November 2, Oldham Library Theatre, Oldham
November 4, Exeter University (Liberating Arts Festival)
November 6, The Lighthouse, Poole
November 7, Wedgwood Rooms, Southsea
November 8, CWU Conference, Preston
November 9, Ruskin College, Old Headington, Oxford 
November 10, The Seagull, Lowestoft 
November 12, Swanland Village Hall, Swanland, East Riding
November 15, Epsom Playhouse
November 17, Liverpool Irish Centre
November 18, Trinity, Bristol TBC
November 21-25, Tara Theatre, Earlsfield, London
November 29, The Witham, Barnard Castle, Co. Durham
November 30, Barton Assembly Rooms, Barton-Upon-Humber
December 1, Rotherham – venue TBC
December 2, St. Thomas Church Hall, Stanhope, Co. Durham.

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