Lessons On Revolution

Gabriele Uboldi and Samuel Rees
Carmen Collective and Undone Theatre in collaboration with the London School of Economics
The Hope Theatre

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Gabs and Sam Credit: Jack Sain
Undone Theatre Artistic Director Gabriele Uboldi Credit: Jack Sain
Samuel Rees of Carmen Collective. Credit: Jack Sain

There must have been many a raised eyebrow and sceptical look when the writing team of Sam and Gabs pitched their play Lessons On Revolution. That wouldn’t have been a surprise given the show includes the London School of Economics (LSE) connection to an oil company that not only broke United Nations sanctions against racist Rhodesia but also sold the USA the means to make napalm to kill people in Vietnam.

The performance visits four continents over a hundred and forty years, switching between various documented historical events and the personal memoirs of our writers, who are also performers.

All this and more takes place in little more than ninety minutes, with the voluntary help of audience members, a number of whom sit crossed-legged on two sides of the performance space. Yet it works, from the central thread of the 1960s protests of students at the LSE to the echo of these events in the lives of the intrepid researchers Sam and Gabs.

A key provocation of student action in 1967 was the support British Petroleum (majority owned by the British Government) gave to racist Rhodesia “by pumping 500,000 gallons of oil” into the country “every day”. A stack of LSE directors were also directors of BP. The “LSE and BP were in this sense joined at the hip.”

Understandably, demands came first from the Socialist Society and then from students generally for the university to declare what investments it had in Rhodesia, and for its directors to choose to either resign from the LSE or give up BP. This educational conflict escalates with the school's decision to appoint Walter Adams, who had a villainous Rhodesian history, to become its new director.

Students walk out of classes and occupy the institution’s Old Theatre.

As the audience hears that the students' occupation is plunged into darkness by management, the performance lights dim, and a voice reports to us that, “in the dark, the students become aware of the space they take up, together, in a room they’ve been forbidden to sit in. In the dark, revolution becomes a real possibility. Change is about to happen.”

Two key students the show identifies are the student representatives David Adelston and Marshall Bloom. When Lord Bridges, the chair of the LSE and a BP director, writes a letter of propaganda about the conflict to The Times, Adamson breaches an order not to reply, for which he is disciplined. Both reps end up suspended.

Gabriele, who for the performance we are told we can call Gabs, comes from Italy. He shares a flat with Sam, who, when not working in theatre, “serves drinks in a bar”.

Outside the flat, over a hundred trees are chopped down. Inside, they risk death from a lack of fire safety that the landlord has been officially warned about by the local authority. But this is where they store their archive and write this play.

It is a riveting production, well-paced and remarkably uplifting, as it connects the inspiring struggles of the 1960s to our contemporary situation.

Reviewer: Keith Mckenna

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