The rebels negotiate with King Richard II
How did the project begin?
When Eve Span is an ongoing six-year collaboration between Mark O’Brien and John Cresswell. Way back in 2004 Mark published a small book on the Peasant’s Revolt of 1381: When Adam Delved and Eve Span. A History of the Peasants’ Revolt of 1381. John meanwhile had been establishing himself as an actor and playwright. After a chance catch-up chat at the bar of the Marxism 2016 event in London, Mark and John hatched the idea of writing and producing a play based upon this amazing story from English history.
Why is this story important today?
During May-June 1381 the peasants of England rose up against their feudal lords and came within a cat’s whisker of overthrowing the monarchy!
It was an amazing episode in English history. It happened a long time ago; over six and a half centuries ago, in fact. The chronicles of the time that tell the story, describe a late feudal society that was very different from our own.
And yet the story of the rising serves also as a hugely powerful metaphor for the struggles of the oppressed and the exploited in every generation since. The Levellers of the English Civil War 1642-1651 celebrated the rising. Thomas Paine refers to the revolt in his 1791 revolutionary pamphlet The Rights of Man. In the twentieth century the historians of the British Communist Party, Rodney Hilton and Hyman Fagan, wrote about it in their The English Rising of 1381 (1950).
Certainly, the great themes of the Revolt are relevant today. Contagion created its backdrop with the Great Plague of the middle of the 14th Century. War dominated English life in the years leading up to it. Taxation antagonised the population, as did the venality of the church and the hypocrisy, double standards and cynicism of the rich. But more than the immediate demands of the revolt, the inspiration of a communist ideal raised the sights of the rebels to imagine a world that could be radically different from the one in which they lived.
The story of the rising is more resonant now than ever before. In this age of pandemic, war, inequality and oppression, we can relate to the sense of social injustice and anger felt by the rebels of 1381. Today, their voices of protest, and their demands for justice and radical social change, still ring down through the centuries.
When Eve Span will tell and perform the story of the revolt for the modern audiences of today’s capitalist, sick and war-ridden world.
Some thoughts from Mark (video)
Mark became fascinated by the story of the revolt in the early 2000s, and read all of the available histories, from some of the mediaeval chronicles, to accounts written by left historians in the 1930s, 1940s, and 1950s, and by contemporary academics.
In 2004 he published a history of the revolt: When Adam Delved and Eve Span: A History of the Peasants' Revolt of 1381, New Clarion Press.
This led to Mark appearing on Tony Robinson's Time Team two-hour special about the Peasants' Revolt, bringing the story to a television audience.
Following the chance encounter between Mark and John, work towards obtaining funding began. Success came in the form of £5k from the Artists International Development Fund of the British Council.
This paid for Mark, John and a collaborator Colin Leggo, to travel to Philadelphia to work with a US theatre group there for one week to produce a first script. The group were hosted by Professor Andy Lamas of the University of Pennsylvania. Mark, John and Colin were very pleased to work with amazing actors in Philadelphia - Mary Toumanen, Becky Martin and Theodora Rodine.
When it is finished the script will be published with Open Book Publishers. This is an open source publisher. The script will be free to download. Production companies and theatre groups will be able to adapt it to suit their cultural and political context, to make it relevant to their audiences. Performances will use non-traditional casting so that any actor - of any sex, gender, ethnicity, or ability-status - will able to play any role. Staging the play, will require only very small budgets, and will need minimal staging effects and propping.
Some thoughts from John (video)
Work on When Eve Span stopped for two years as it did with so many other projects, because of the Covid crisis and lockdown. Workshops that had been planned for 2020 to develop the script, could not go ahead. Finally, in February 2022, they did.
Three days of workshops took place at the Rose and Crown theatre in Walthamstow, London. A rehearsed reading happened at the end of the workshopping week, on the evening of Friday 11 February. A paying audience of 70 attended that evening, with half of the proceeds going to the Stand Up to Racism campaign.
The cast of the Rose and Crown rehearsed reading, 11 February 2022
The result of the workshops and Friday performance, was a much-developed script, but still with much left to improve.
A second rehearsed reading happened at the Marxism Festival in London on 2 July.
This is the project-phase for which funds are needed. We intend to deliver a full-staged production of When Eve Span, at venues in London, Liverpool and other parts of the UK.
The script will continue to be edited and improve with each staging, only reaching its final, to-be-published form after several performances.
The full costs of this final phase of the project will include: staging, costume and propping; actors’ pay; travel and accommodation for the troupe; and publicity and marketing.
Some costs will be covered by ticket sales. However, we estimate that this will cover only about 10% of the full costs.
To deliver the final Phase III of the project, we calculate that we need to raise £5k.
Of course, the more we raise, the more performances we can stage. If we exceed our target sufficiently we will be aiming to take the production on tour around the UK.
So, what will you get if you support When Eve Span?
We thank you for your attention in reading this far. We hope we still have your interest.
We will appreciate all donations, no matter what size.
However, we will promise the following benefits for different sizes of donation.
You name will appear as a donor on the programme for all the performances.
You will receive a signed piece of artwork for When Eve Span.
You will have free seats for yourself and three others, for all of the performances we stage.
Are you a member of a trade union?
We are especially interested in support from trade unions. If your union sponsors the project the union logo, and appropriate branch or region, will be displayed on future publicity, theatre programmes, etc.