PRODUCERS of a new play about a revolutionary Labour MP are working to find a way of performing it in the North East town she served.

Red Ellen, a new play from multi award-winning poet and playwright Caroline Bird, tells the remarkable story of Ellen Wilkinson, who served as Labour MP for Middlesbrough East from 1924 to 1931.

Read more: MP says bring 'Red Ellen' Wilkinson back home

The production, staged jointly by the Royal Lyceum Theatre Edinburgh, Nottingham Playhouse Theatre Company and Newcastle-based Northern Stage, includes dates in Nottingham, Edinburgh, York and Newcastle.

The Northern Echo:

It tells the story of a woman who campaigned tirelessly for social change - bringing in free school meals and leading the Jarrow March from the North East to London through York, Nottingham and the Midlands to deliver a petition to reduce unemployment and poverty.

Last week, Middlesbrough MP Andy McDonald, told The Northern Echo he would "dearly love" to see Red Ellen performed before audiences in Middlesbrough for at least one night.

Now, Northern Stage, says it is working with the MP in an effort to make his wish a reality.

Joint Chief Executive Kate Denby said: “Northern Stage serves the whole of the North East and beyond, so we were delighted to read Andy McDonald’s praise for our new production of Red Ellen in The Northern Echo.

"As well as touring the production to places the Jarrow March went through, including York and Nottingham, we’re now working to find a way to put on a special one-off event in Middlesbrough given there’s so much support there. We’re in touch with Andy McDonald and we’ll announce the details as soon as we can.”

The Northern Echo: The Red Ellen cast at Northern Stage on day one of rehearsals. Picture: VON FOX PROMOTIONSThe Red Ellen cast at Northern Stage on day one of rehearsals. Picture: VON FOX PROMOTIONS

Director Wils Wilson added: “Ellen had an incredible life, fighting so hard to improve the lives of ordinary people and she achieved so much, against the odds.

"Her story deserves to be known far and wide. It’s exciting to be part of celebrating her life in the places where she had a personal impact and is still remembered, like Middlesbrough where she is clearly held in such affection.”

Ellen Wilkinson was the only female minister in Clement Attlee’s government, and served as a vital member of Churchill's cabinet, taking sole charge of air raid shelters during the Second World War.

The Northern Echo:

Further afield, she campaigned for Britain to aid the fight against Franco’s Fascists in Spain, battled to save Jewish refugees in Nazi Germany and published some of the first anti-fascist literature in the UK.

Running - often quite literally - into the likes of Albert Einstein and Ernest Hemingway, she had affairs with communist spies and government ministers.

Writer Caroline Bird said: “Ellen was a complex person by anyone’s standards and she never stopped, but despite her herculean efforts, she is largely forgotten by history.

"The irony, of course, about ‘forgotten women of history’ is invariably the facts of their lives turn out to be acutely memorable - they’re not forgotten because they’re forgettable.

The Northern Echo: Writer Caroline BirdWriter Caroline Bird

"I’ve been living with Ellen Wilkinson in my head for about six years now and I can honestly say, after writing this play, Ellen has done the impossible - she has given me back a glimmer of faith in politics. We need politicians like Ellen and we also need to look after them, and support them.

"She failed at so many things, and yet she was a total, stonking, miraculous, life-affirming, bloody wonderful triumph. A bright and particular star.

"I hope that some of Ellen’s light can still reach us all the way down here, and that this play might reignite a spark or two.”

Bettrys Jones will play Ellen Wilkinson. The rest of the cast are Helen Katamba who plays Ellen’s sister, Annie Wilkinson; Laura Evelyn plays British Communist activist Isabel Brown; Sandy Batchelor plays Czech agent Otto Katz; Kevin Lennon plays Labour politician and Leader of London County Council Herbert Morrison; Mercedes Assad plays Mr Ansley, a representative for the Jarrow Labour Exchange; and Jim Kitson plays David - a local man from Jarrow.

The Northern Echo: Bettrys Jones as Ellen WilkinsonBettrys Jones as Ellen Wilkinson

Caroline added: “What’s made me sad and reflective in terms of writing the play, is just how pertinent it is today.

"There’s a feeling that Ellen spent her whole life walking, marching down a moving walkway that was going in the opposite direction. She had the wind in her face. Sometimes she was having to fight just to stay still. And sometimes it feels like that now. We have to fight to keep what we’ve got before we can even move further along. And there was so much further to go on this march, so much further to go.

“And the left is divided. That’s the other thing that Ellen really fought for. She wanted unity. She was like, if we’re going to embody any kind of energy we need to have a team rather than factions.

"And she was right that squabbling on the left does strengthen the right. And so many of the speeches and the questions and the trouble that she was trying to illuminate are exactly the same now.”

Red Ellen is a Northern Stage, Nottingham Playhouse and Royal Lyceum Theatre Edinburgh coproduction and will tour to Nottingham (April 13 to 30), Edinburgh (May 4 to 21), and York (May 24 to 28) after its Newcastle premiere (March 25 to April 9).

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