…until the bus drove off.

From the website of the Unity Theatre Trust:

“Unity Theatre grew out of the agitprop street theatre in the East End of London in the early 1930s lasting until it was destroyed by fire in 1975.
Once established, in a converted chapel in Kings Cross (built entirely with voluntary labour), Unity became the inspiration for a national upsurge in drama on social and political issues, since it was the only theatre in London throughout the 1930’s, 1940’s and early 1950’s producing plays on these subjects.

Alongside shows specially created for Unity, it drew on the repertoire of world theatre, including innovative productions of works by Clifford Odets, Sean O’Casey, Lope de Vega, Jean Paul Sartre and Arthur Adamov. It was the first theatre in England to stage a play by Bertolt Brecht and it helped popularise the plays of Maxim Gorky.

Unity’s strength lay with its audience drawn mainly from the trades unions and organised labour movements, but amongst its supporters were many eminent personalities e.g. Bernard Shaw, H.G. Wells, Sybil Thorndike, Beatrix Lehmann and Paul Robeson whose appearance with Unity, followed by international acclaim for the political pantomime Babes in the Wood, marked the peak of the theatre’s fame.

With the outbreak of war, Unity was the first theatre to open in London once the ban on public entertainment had been lifted and it maintained a permanent repertory of plays, satirical revues and musicals throughout the five years of hostilities. It also sent out small groups of performers who, often in hazardous conditions, provided valuable shelter and factory entertainment for those winning the war at home.

Unity emerged from the war at the head of a national drama movement that was concerned with the lives of working people. Soon however, many of the developments pioneered by Unity, such as vernacular drama, Living Newspaper and biting satirical shows, were accepted by the theatrical mainstream and television.

Many well-known theatre people – Lionel Bart, Alfie Bass, Michael Gambon, Bob Hoskins, David Kossoff, Warren Mitchell, Bill Owen and Ted Willis among them – learned their skills at this influential theatre which was the working people’s most sustained and successful contribution to British drama and one of the most important and enduring initiatives in popular culture this century.”

From: The Changing Scene (1937), by Arthur Calder-Marshall:

“…Most helpful of all is the Left Book Club founded in 1936 by Victor Gollancz and increasing rapidly in membership every month. There is a Left Theatre, with a hopeful future under trade union support, and The Unity, an amateur working-man’s theatre in London at King’s Cross. From the B.B.C. there is little support. No communist politician has been allowed to speak: and academic Marxists are always kept academic, and the other side is heavily put immediately afterwards. (An overworked member of the B.B.C. was seen waiting at a bus-stop. Whenever a bus came up, he walked all round it, until the bus drove off. When asked what he was doing, he said, “I want to get to Victoria. But while I’m seeing all sides of the question, it drives off.”) There are a few socialist films made in Russia and there is Pabst’s Kameradschaft. But they are not shewn on the cinema circuits, and many of them are cut beyond recognition.”

Tom Dewe Mathews wrote in The Guardian of 16 Jan 2002:

“…Although he came late to movies, the 37-year-old Pabst was eminently qualified to direct when he made his first film in 1924. Not only had he studied engineering in Vienna and so learned many of movie-making’s technical skills; but he had also acted on stages all over Europe and America. However, it was his perceptiveness off the set that marked him out. “What is distinctive about Pabst,” says (Tony) Rayns, “is the intellectual enquiry that he brought to films. He looked around his culture and picked up on issues, particularly social issues. In Joyless Street, for instance, he showed how inflation affected middle-class and working women and cast them into poverty; and later on, in his version of The Threepenny Opera, he tackled crime, hypocrisy and class. In fact, all his early films show a clear left-wing alignment along with a keen eye for the interdependence of money, power and sex.”

Pabst, who made the first serious film about Freud – Secrets of a Soul in 1926 – was interested in psychology rather than sociology. And he had a particular preoccupation with the battle of the sexes. In his first films the protagonist was nearly always a woman; and by 1928 he felt his reputation was sufficiently secure to put Germany’s favourite fictional female, Lulu from Frank Wedekind’s stage hit Pandora’s Box, on to the screen.

Everything in Wedekind’s play revolves around Lulu. But where was Pabst to find her? There was fierce speculation about whom Pabst would cast. The director scoured Europe and finally settled on Marlene Dietrich. But just as she was about to sign up, word came through that Pabst’s original choice – a little-known contract player from Paramount called Louise Brooks – had got on the boat to Bremen and could be on set the following Monday. “Imagine Pabst choosing Louise Brooks for Lulu,” Dietrich flounced, “when he could have had me!”…”

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