The Whip

The Whip.jpg

I guess you can understand the 2018 British government hopelessly casting around for some good news somewhere, but even by those standards, one particular (now-deleted) tweet seems desperate in the extreme.

Did you know? In 1833, Britain used £20 million, 40% of its national budget, to buy freedom for all slaves in the Empire. The amount of money borrowed for the Slavery Abolition Act was so large that it wasn’t paid off until 2015. Which means that living British citizens helped pay to end the slave trade

It was that tweet which led to Juliet Gilkes Romero to write The Whip, effectively the inside story of the wheeling and dealing which brought about Britain’s belated end to the slave trade.

The neutrality of the language disguises a truly incredible fact: the British government spent almost half of its annual budget compensating slave owners for the loss of their ‘property.’ Yep, the very Act which recognised the obscenity of viewing people as property also implicitly accepted the validity of the claim.

There’s another startling fact, but that one’s a spoiler if you don’t already know the history, so I’ll leave you to discover it for yourself.

It’s an astonishing and horrifying story which would easily have become a moralistic history lecture, but The Whip is anything but. The characters bring the story to life in a way that is as entertaining as it is powerful.

The title is a dual nod to the instrument of the slave-keepers and the play’s protagonist, Lord Boyd, the government chief whip charged with getting the bill passed. Played by Richard Clothier, it’s a painfully credible portrayal of a man who starts as an idealist and is increasingly corrupted by both political realities and personal ambition.

The rest of the cast is excellent, with Mercy Pryce as a former slave turned political campaigner stealing the show.

The plot is interwoven with that of the almost slave-like existence of child labourers in Britain’s cotton mills, and the emerging suffragette movement. That last element is perhaps a little forced, an attempt to include all of the interesting battles of the time, and is my only real criticism. That one would make a play in its own right.

A friend appears in it, and thinks it could use a little trimming. I’ll bow to her expertise, but have to say the time whizzed by for me.

I think this could easily transfer to London, but don’t risk it: it’s worth the trip to Stratford-upon-Avon, even on a train that stops at golf courses.

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