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22 August 2013

Workhouse donkey

By Stephen Brasher

John Arden was so radical that he once picketed his own play because he thought its politics had been hijacked. The critic Martin Esslin described Arden’s The Workhouse Donkey as the most successful Brechtian play since The Caucasian Chalk Circle.
It premiered at the 1963 Chichester Festival and concerned corruption in the local council of a northern town (Arden was from Barnsley). There is bitter rivalry between the Tory Harold Sweetman, who owns the local Copacabana Club, and the Labour councillor Charlie Butterthwaite – known as the “Workhouse Donkey”.
At the end the cast sings: “We stand all alone to the north of the Trent,/You leave us alone and we’ll leave you alone./We take no offence where none has been meant,/But if you hit us with your fist, we’ll bash you with a stone!”

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