World premiere of Len Johnson ‘Fighter’

jarreau benjamin

The story of Len Johnson, the greatest British middleweight never to win a title, will receive its world premiere at the King’s Arms in Salford, 15-18 July at 7.30pm.

 

Len, born in Manchester in 1903, learnt to box at the travelling boxing booth and from his father, a former sailor from Sierra Leone who settled in Manchester.

 

With his “educated left hand and a slippery defence”, he was considered Britain’s best middleweight of the late 1920s and early 1930s.

 

Although he won the British Boxing Board of Control Northern area light heavyweight title and the British Empire middleweight title, he was banned from fighting for any of the official British titles because he was black.

 

Memorabilia at the Working Class Movement Library in Salford includes an article by Lord Lonsdale in Empire News that explains, after talks with Winston Churchill at the Home Office, that the legality of boxing was made conditional on having no “inter-coloured contests”.

 

Denied the chance to ever win the British champion’s belt, he retired from the ring in1933, toured the country with his booth and worked for the Civil Defence Corps in the Second World War.

 

This extraordinary man continued his fight against discrimination and became increasingly radicalised, joining the Communist Party and standing as their candidate for Moss Side East six times between 1947 and 1962.

 

He helped organise the 1945 Pan-African Conference in Manchester and became great friends with Paul Robeson, the singer and civil rights activist, and organized Britain’s “Let Paul Robeson Sing” campaign.

 

In 1946 along with his comrades Wilf Charles and Syd Booth they formed “The New International Society", campaigning for many causes at home and abroad. He died in Oldham in 1974.

 

Jarreau Benjamin, who won rave reviews for his role in Diabetic Penguins at last year’s GMFringe, plays the title role in this story of a true working class hero, who fought for all regardless of race or creed, exposing the depths of racism inherent in British society.

 

He is joined by Katie McArdle, daughter of Brookside actor John(Billy Corkhill), who has appeared in No Soft Option at 24/7 Festival last year and Thrasher at the Royal Exchange.

 

Len Johnson “Fighter” is written by Colin Connor, directed by Nick Birchill, and produced by Lisa Connor, three of the team behind the adaptation of Jack Rosenthal’s screenplay "The Best" that won best fringe production 2013 Manchester Theatre Awards. Colin, Nick and Lisa were also the team behind "Meanwhile" at GMFringe 2013 -  that received five-star reviews and transferred to the Bolton Octagon to sell out shows.

 

Musical Director Mark Simpson and Rising Moon Productions are still looking for volunteers to be in the play as part of the community chorus.

 

Volunteers should be aged 16 or over, no previous experience required, just a love of theatre and an interest in the play. 

 

The Greater Manchester Fringe festival is held 1st-31st July annually and this year’s patrons are writer Tim Firth, former Coronation Street actress Shobna Gulati, comedian Justin Moorhouse and former ‘Allo ‘Allo star Arthur Bostrom.

 

Tim, who wrote the screenplay for Calendar Girls, said: “The fringe is the most important area of any art form because it is the arena in which risks are taken and challenges set.

 

Any festival without a fringe is basically rootless because ultimately it is the fringe which will drive the centre.

 

As well as drama, GMFringe features previews of Edinburgh fringe comedy shows, puppets, performance poetry, children’s events, live music, exhibitions and debate. Tickets are normally kept below £10 and some events are free admission.

 

Venues hosting a wide variety of events during July include: Apotheca, Three Minute Theatre, Band on the Wall, The Bay Horse, The Briton’s Portection, Castle Hotel, The Eagle Inn, Fab Café, Frog and Bucket, Gullivers, The Hatters Hostel, Kraak, Joshua Brooks, Lower Kersal Social Club, O’Shea’s, Salford Arms Hotel, Satan’s Hollow, Taurus Bar, The King’s Arms, The Marble Beerhouse, The Millstone, The Retro Bar, The Roadhouse, The Swan, The Vine Inn, Tiger Lounge, Town Hall Tavern, and TV21 Café bar.

 

The deadline for registering new shows is Saturday 31 May. Full listings will be published in the Greater Manchester Fringe brochure in June and online. For more details of how to volunteer for the community chorus email gmfringe@gmail.com.

 

LEN JOHNSON “FIGHTER”

15-18th July, 7.30pm, King’s Arms, Salford. £8/£6 (concessions)

World premiere of this new play about boxer Len Johnson by Colin Connor.