Unity Theatre will never be forgotten
23 September, 2021
Harry Landis and Frances Cuka in Channel 4’s Friday Night Dinner
• WELL, what do you know it’s Harry Landis (Real-life drama, Review, September 16) and we’re both the same age, pushing for 90 next year. I hope we are not the only survivors of Unity Theatre.
So many are gone we would need our own cenotaph for we fought a war, a cultural war, that allowed the young and not so young, to come off the street and be actors, writers, stage managers, set-makers and general backstage staff.
Unity gave me my first break as a playwright. It is described as an amateur theatre but it was much more than that. It was semi-professional and we were joined by many actors who came in between jobs in what was designated as professional theatre.
The only difference being that you got paid in one and in the other you gave your time and energy but was paid with a sense of fulfilment that you were there to give society a different view of the world.
Harry, who also directed plays at Unity, gave many a start in the acting profession. Some of them hit the heights but mostly hid the fact that they started out in Unity Theatre.
It was the period of the Cold War, of course, and the media were hostile to us and very rarely gave the work at Unity reviews.
You could say this theatre was quietly socialist; but most members weren’t at all political in their everyday life. You didn’t have to be one to join. Working-class, yes, but not entirely. The members weren’t sorted in class terms. We all needed one another’s skills.
I shall always remember the dear comrades who have gone, though we squabbled to keep the show on the road. Then the struggle to keep Unity out of the hands of commercial interests.
Luckily Unity Theatre will never be forgotten. It is well documented and has many archives to be read plus an excellent book, with photographs, by Colin Chambers who wrote: The Story of Unity Theatre, published by Lawrence and Wishart in 1989.
WILSON JOHN HAIRE
Lulot Gardens, N19