Mother of the Revolution: Archipelago Arts Collective at Leeds Industrial Museum

Mother of the Revolution is described as a folk musical. The term folk, according to Director and Developer Beth Knight, means ‘the music of working people.’

The working people here are the men and women who worked at Kirkstall Forge. The oldest forge in England, it became a driving force of the industrial revolution through the determination of Betty Beecroft.

Kathryn Hanke as Betty Beecroft and Adam Bassett as John Butler

We were welcomed at the doors of the Leeds Industrial Museum and stamped; Beecroft written in red ink on the back of my hand. While we waited for the performance to commence, we enjoyed refreshments in the pop-up bar with beer from Horsforth Brewery. The performance began outside, so we could take our drinks with us, but had to deposit glasses at reception when the action moved indoors.

Emily Snooks, Millie Watson and Claire O’Connor (The Folk Troupe)

Our evening began with music. Interspersed throughout the performance, the music was melodic and well executed. A few lines have stayed with me, but I generally found the songs a relaxing backdrop to the story, as was the birdsong that accompanied the outdoor sections of our dusk promenade. The music propelled the action, and in some cases our movements, forward, but initially it set the scene. We were introduced to Betty and her family before different sections of the audience began to follow separate strands.

Emily Snooks as Eva and Miles Kinsley as Alan

As a woman, Betty was unable to buy property so she was dependent upon her husband and more significantly her brother-in-law, John Butler, but it was her vision that made the forge a success. Her mother had ensured she had an education, which enabled her to run a stall at Leeds Market and then the family farm when she married. When the Kirkstall Forge came up for sale, she knew she could run it and expand its profits.

Cherie Gordon as Miriam and Richard Kay as James

Kathryn Hanke plays Betty as a determined, no-nonsense woman. Her gentle but ineffectual husband George, played by Richard Kay, doubts that a woman can be successful, whilst John Butler, played by Deaf actor Adam Bassett, recognises her talent but still believes that he should be in charge. Embedded BSL is used throughout the performance and this added emphasis to the tense interactions between Betty and John.

Adam Bassett as Milton and Cherie Gordon as Miriam

The performance is not just about Betty and her family: 275 years of history are interwoven to provide snapshots of the forge from its heyday until its closure in 2003. Echoes of Betty’s struggle appear in the form of Miriam, played by Deaf actor Cherie Gordon, who relished her time working during the war but is forced out once peace returns.

Reece Carter as Leroy

Revolt takes another form in 1981, when the forge workers strike for better wages. The audience joins them on their picket line, applauding speeches and chanting alongside the cast. This adds to the community feel of the production that has already been established through the presence of a community choir and child performers from Interplay Youth Theatre.

Richard Kay (James), Claire O’Connor and Millie Watson (The Folk Troupe), Cherie Gordon (Miriam) and Reece Carter (Kevin)

The authenticity of these scenes was aided by the industrial landscape we traversed. The cast of actors and musicians led us through the museum in an assured manner. Actors took on more than one character and appeared in numerous spaces, yet everyone appeared at the correct time and correct place. The interaction between space and story was far more effective than any set design could be.


Performances continue from Thursday 9th May until Sunday 12th May.

Tickets are available through this link.

Photography by Emily Goldie.

Main image: Cherie Gordon as Mel, Kathryn Hanke as Betty Beecroft, Richard Kay as George Beecroft, Adam Bassett as John Butler and Miles Kinsley as Thomas Butler.

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