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The People Must Pay


The People Must Pay takes its title from Queen Victoria's alleged reply to her prime minister Gladstone when he suggested that she should put her hand in her own pocket to pay for the cost of the 1887 Jubilee celebrations. The action of the play takes place during a public meeting held in a pub, where the people of Blyth argue for and against the town staging some sort of celebration.

As the meeting progresses, many of the issues of the time are revealed, not least being Victoria's unpopularity.

In many ways, this was thanks to the way that she'd closeted herself away following the death of her consort, Prince Albert, and that her children, in particular the Prince of Wales, were perceived to be frivolous spendthrifts.

Some of the cast
Jubilee Year was a bad year for the country, with serious unrest due to deflation which had hit the stock market and caused massive unemployment. For Blyth, things were even worse with a measles epidemic, which had carried off a large number of its children, and a 17 week miners' strike, which not only brought many families to the brink of starvation but succeeded only in reducing a proposed fifteen per cent cut in the men's wages to twelve and a half per cent.

Sir Walter Grey All of this features in the public meeting presented on stage as arguments for and against celebrating the Jubilee are voiced by the characters. Speaking in favour of the Jubilee celebrations is the local aristocratic shipyard owner, Sir Walter Grey, and against it, the embittered Carter Jones, a republican staithesman recently sacked from Sir Walter's yard for organising.

There's also Richard Fynes, unelected 'mayor' of Blyth, pilloried by Jones for voting against the miners' strike. Fynes had always been interested in the plight of the miners, but could see no point in a strike which was doomed to failure from the start.

The play also features the Shakespearian actors, Osmond and Edmund Tearle, currently playing at Dicky Fynes' theatre.

Richard Fynes and the Tearle brothers
Scribe Fraser and Lizzie Nelson Local businessmen, the town's librarian, the local reporter, its hell fire and damnation preacher and the landlady of the pub all help to swell the cast of characters. All have an opinion, and, as the meeting proceeds and the arguments get more vociferous, secrets come tumbling out, not least one about Sir Walter's wife and her reported relationship with Bertie, the profligate Prince of Wales.

In the end, peace of a sort reigns and a decision is reached. The town will celebrate, but less, much less, for Victoria and her Jubilee than for the great port of Blyth itself and the courage, decency and wit of its townsfolk.

Songs from The People Must Pay are available on CD via our Contact page

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