Creative And Ambitious: ‘The Legend of Ned Ludd’ Review

the legend of ned lubb
Image credit: Marc Brenner


There is something to be said for watching a performance about work, out of work hours. It could feel like a sort of protest, a defiant “I don’t mind what I do, thank you very much”. Or it could feel like the inescapable 9-5 has grown legs and taken over your evenings too. The Legend of Ned Ludd walks a precarious line, straying either way whilst trying to air the dirty laundry of capitalism throughout the ages.

This new writing by Joe Ward Munrow, performed at Liverpool’s Everyman Theatre, takes on the timeless narrative of the worker against the employer, and at large, against the system. It attempts to show that everyone, everywhere, pretty much has the same struggle. Oh, and that machines are going to take over your job.

Flitting between 1816, when Ned Ludd made his protest about machines taking over the cotton industry, and a machine churning out different time periods, The Legend of Ned Ludd is always on the move. Upon introduction, the three actors (Reuben Johnson, Menyee Lai, Shaun Mason) explain that there are 256 versions, hence no show is the same. It is an impressive boast, but as the different scenes unfurl you wonder if perhaps you are missing out on something better. A button is pushed, and a time and place selected at random. A box of props is pushed onto the set from a warehouse sort of set-up at the back of the stage. There is intrigue: the premise is promising, there is a whole world to explore. But, with dialogue that trickles along and elaborate scene changes dragging their heels, this quickly dissipates. 

Credit where it is due, the three actors dip in and out of roles with ease. Given that an element of the show is spontaneous, they take it well in their stride. A charismatic performance is delivered by Johnson, and all three actors are immediately likeable onstage. Lighting in general is effective, placing emphasis at key points and letting others convey day-to-day life. The machine dictating the show watches over the stage in its bright yellow, ever-present and waiting for another roll of the dice.

Each scene is about workers—the factory workers, the decorators, builders—each lamenting their position in the food chain. If you came for some theatre escapism, you might want to look the other way. The performance tracks societal issues through time, in part labouring how little we learn from the past. And whilst it faces up to global issues and ideologies, including capitalism and communism, education and the workforce, the script isn’t quite as revolutionary. In places it wanes into the mundane and you find yourself waiting for the machine to come alive again and transport you to Paris in 1844, or Lagos in 1918.

But that’s not to say that it’s all hard work. Witty lines are sewn into the script, keeping the audience chuckling and the atmosphere lighter. There are particularly well-written parts that explore the nuance of feeling trapped in life and portray them with humanity and charm. Others, however, skip over the emotion and feel more like a tale with a moral to be learnt.

The Legend of Ned Ludd is an ambitious concept with a few holes in the execution. For the most part, scenes are well played out and display a range of people, languages and cultures all facing similar working struggles. It is a hefty dose of reality, wrapped up in humour and solidarity. The socialist message shines through, but the solution to all the woes? Not quite sold on that one.

The Legend of Ned Ludd will be performed at Liverpool’s Everyman Playhouse until 11 May.

Words by Hannah Goldswain

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