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Review: Dare Devil Rides to Jarama

Applecart Arts and touring
13th March 2017
Review by Ralph McEachern

Dare Devil Rides to JamaraWritten by Neil Gore
Directed by
Louise Townsend
Cast: Neil Gore, David Heywood

Dare Devil Rides To Jamara, a new play commissioned by the International Brigade Memorial Trust, marked the inaugural performance in Applecart Arts new venue, Harold Road Community Centre in Upton Park. This 2 hander, featuring David Heywood and the writer Neil Gore, tells a tale of how a handful of British nationals came to be fighting alongside Spanish Republicans in the Spanish Civil War.

Told through the eyes of Clem “Dare Devil” Beckett, a stunt motorbike rider and social activist of the 1930s, this fringe piece reads like a love letter to socialism. In true Marxist fashion, the audience were expected to play their part as well. As a lot of the action revolves around addresses to large crowds, be that at political rallies or at the motorbike speedway, this audience participation worked well, without feeling too contrived. Before the performance, we were issued with ratchet noisemakers and encouraged to use them regularly. This could have been a little gimmicky, but, as audience encouragement was given with a wink and a nod, this ended up being quite fun.

Stylistically, the piece has a very folky feel, with clever use of puppetry, live music and poetry. Heywood and Gore are clearly both very talented musicians, playing multiple instruments throughout. Occasionally the songs, although well performed, felt like they were stand alone pieces, that slowed down the story a little. Some of the more well known folk anthems however roused the audience to a heroic sing-along.

David Heywood plays Clem Beckett with an energy and intensity that doesn’t let up. The passion of a young politicised man, on a mission to change the world for the better, is compelling to watch. Neil Gore is a fine character actor, embodying every other character in the play, although it is not until we meet his Christopher Caudwell towards the end of the first act that we see a venerable character, played with great sensitivity. With this in mind, this play is very much a game of two halves. The first act is good fun, with larger than life characters, musical numbers, and action sequences. The second act starts strongly, with an excellent monologue, paradoxically performed by both actors. The gravity continues as the songs and humour disappear, and we learn more about the burgeoning friendship between an unlikely pair of comrades.

The set appears simple and functional, but is actually well thought out and every piece is creatively used to tell the story. Lighting was mostly low and moody, but at times the performances were just happening in the dark, which seemed a shame and like a mistake. Whether this was a production or a venue issue was unclear.

I would not normally mention the venue in a review, but as this was the inaugural performance in this new venue it seems appropriate to do so. Applecart Arts has a new home at a former community centre in Upton Park. One of the most notable things on entering the front of house cafe was the welcoming and friendly feel from staff and patrons alike. There was an excitement in the air about a new artistic venture for the East End. The theatre itself is still very much a community centre hall; nothing fancy but a useful space. Investment in some raked seating or a raised stage would be beneficial as sight lines were not always very good, but I look forward to seeing what the future has in store for Applecart Arts.

Dare Devil Rides to Jarama continues at the Applecart Arts until 14th March and tours thereafter.
Dates and tickets from http://www.townsendproductions.org.uk/