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Captain Swing (1978)


A Royal Shakespeare Company production and world premiere of a play by Peter Whelan, performed at The Other Place, Stratford-upon-Avon (opened 26 June 1978).

Performance length: 2 hours and 40 minutes (including interval)


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This was the premiere production of Captain Swing.  Set in November 1830, and inspired by the actions of the mythical figure who lends his name to the play's title, the play follows the fortunes of impoverished farm labourers in and around a Sussex village. 

Like many rural areas of the country at the time, the village witnesses the English Swing Riots, in which labourers protest against poor working conditions and the increased mechanisation of farming. 

While Mathew Hardeness is committed to non-violent action, the mysterious 'Captain Swing' adopts a hot-headed approach, addressing threatening letters to landowners.  Gemma Beech is also among the protestors - contemporary reviewers compared the character to the French Revolution's firebrand, Charlotte Corday.  Gemma is drawn to Farquarson, who may or may not be the legendary Captain Swing. 

Can peaceful protest bring social justice, or will the labourers resort to violence in the struggle to make their voices heard?


John Bowe ... Jack Slipper

David Bradley ... Mathew Hardeness

Bill Buffery ... John Povey

Avril Carson ... Agness / Mary Culliford

Lady Cummings ... Carmen Du Sautoy

Anthony Higgins ... Corporal Moat

David Lyon ... Lieutenant Tublin

Valerie Lush ... Grannie Brindley

James Griffiths ... Parson Aston

Alan Rickman ... Farquarson

Zoë Wanamaker ... Gemma Beech

Philip McGough ... Tom

Hilton McRae ... Daniel

Paul Moriarty ... Michael O'Neil

George Raistrick ... Ned

Paul Webster ... Robert Whatley

Paul Whitworth ... Sam


At the Warehouse
Director: Bill Alexander
Designer: Kit Surrey
Lighting Designer: Leo Leibovici
Sound: John A Leonard
Music: Richard Springate and Robin Weatherall
Fencing Advisor: Annemarie Krimke
Stage Manager: Titus Grant
Deputy Stage Manager: Diana Durant
Assistant Stage Manager: Colin Blumenau


Captain Swing is one of the many productions in which Zoe performed with the prestigious Royal Shakespeare Company.  She joined the RSC at a very interesting stage in its development, sensing an exciting new dynamic among the actors.  'Some of us now at the RSC have a different sort of energy that has not been smoothed, shined or made acceptable.  I like that', she commented at the time (see 'I Yearn To Be So Free and Comfortable on That Stage' interview). 

In addition to Captain Swing, Zoë's RSC productions during the 1970s include The Devil's Disciple (1976), Ivanov (1976), Wild Oats (1976), The Taming of the Shrew (1978), Piaf (1978), and Once in a Lifetime (1979).  During the 1980s, she returned to the company for Twelfth Night (1983), The Comedy of Errors (1983), Mother Courage and Her Children (1984), and Othello (1989).

Related links

Captain Swing production photos - The Rickmanista Review (scroll down page to find links to the photos)

Captain Swing (The Other Place) production information - Shakespeare Birthplace Trust (information about the production at its subsequent venues can be found by searching the RSC Performance Database on the Trust's website)

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