Sir Oswald Mosley was an antisemite who led the British Union of Fascists in the 1930s. His notorious Blackshirts were a byword for political thuggery. Mosley was interned during the Second World War.
Yet Mosley started life as a mainstream politician. First elected to the House of Commons as a Conservative in 1918, aged only 21, he later joined Labour and in 1929 was appointed a member of Ramsay MacDonald’s Government. Mosley was spoken of as a future Prime Minister. But he resigned a year later, and in 1932 formed the British Union of Fascists.
As we enter the intimate venue for this new play by D.R Hill, stern looking Blackshirts mumble greetings. We are soon welcomed by Mosley himself. It is 1961 and we’re his guests at his home in France. He’s launching the ‘new Union Movement’ and tells us about his vision for ‘a united Europe’.
Mosley’s efforts to revive his career in the 1960s failed, but most of the 13 scenes cover the 1930s when he had considerable support. The Daily Mail had an infamous headline declaring ‘Hurrah for the Blackshirts’.
Directed by Su Gilroy, this new play by D.R.Hill is very watchable and the 70 minutes pass quickly. It is simply but effectively staged.
Lighting and Technical Designer, Matthew Biss, lights the show well. A screen at the back tells us where each scene is set with appropriate photographs. Music and sound effects help set the mood but are sometimes a little too loud at the opening performance, occasionally making it difficult to hear the actors.
The playwright himself is in the leading role of Mosley. Rowland D Hill gives an assured performance, portraying the oily charm and charisma of Mosley.
There is a strong supporting cast. Tina Thomas captures the aristocratic veneer of his second wife, Diana, a friend of Hitler, and one of the famous Mitford sisters.
Georgia Winters is convincing as Mosley’s first wife, Cimmie, and also her sister, Baba, who was later Mosley’s lover.
Simon Polo-Clarke and Dawson James show commendable versatility, playing six named characters between them including William Joyce, David Frost, Cecil Syers (Winston Churchill’s Private Secretary) and a terrorist. And they also play a few more unnamed roles including Blackshirts and tv audience members.
Right wing populism has been much in evidence in Europe and America in recent years. The subtitle of the published script of ‘Draining The Swamp’ poses the question: ‘Is Fascism Once Again On The March?’
The last scene features the terrorist, Brenton Tarrant, who killed 51 people in two mosques in New Zealand in 2019. He claimed that he had been inspired by Mosley (as well as Hitler).
For most of the play we see events from Mosley’s point of view. He is seen resisting calls for antisemitic policies and violent actions from people such as William Joyce (later the infamous Lord Haw-Haw who broadcast Nazi propaganda from Germany to the UK during WW2). When the Blackshirts are violent in 1936 at the Battle of Cable Street, Mosley claims this is self defence. Towards the end of the play, in an interview with David Frost, Mosley’s version of events is countered.
Although Mosley had initially shown no signs of anti semitism, the fact is that as early as 1932 he made antisemitic comments at a rally. Blackshirt violence in 1934 led to one clergyman describing “scenes of great brutality such as I thought I would never see in England.” In 1935 Mosley received praise from Hitler for his antisemitic speeches. Mosley thanked Hitler saying “The forces of Jewish corruption must be overcome.”
“Draining The Swamp’ started off as a 30 minute play in 2020. It has now been published as a full length play which will be touring later this year. The play has been shortened to 70 minutes for the Edinburgh Fringe.
Reviewer: Tom Scott
Reviewed: 16th August 2023
North West End UK Rating: