Talking Down to the 1930s

They Shall Not Pass! 

The message of socialists, trade unionists, immigrants and dock workers who were ready to meet the fascists

Company. (Photo: Jane Hobson)

The 1936 Battle of Cable Street, as it became known, is credited with being the moment the tide of British fascism was turned back, though most historians now think Oswald Mosley’s British Union of Fascists had already started to crumble.  A new musical by Tim Gilvin and Alex Kanevsky at the Southwark Playhouse celebrates the moment when Mosley was prevented from leading his Blackshirts through the east end of London.  So many of them were assembled, determined to stop the march, that London’s police commissioner instructed Mosley not to proceed. 

Mosley agreed, calculating that he could gain from being seen to be the law and order party.  He may also have had in mind, though no one else knew it, that he was expected two days later at the home of German Propaganda Minister Joseph Goebbels, to marry Diana Mitford in secrecy, so it was not a good moment for him to risk arrest.  

But to triumphant east enders, the only thing that mattered was that they had stopped the racists from marching through their territory.

Company. (Photo: Jane Hobson)

Historically, it’s nothing like as big a moment as it’s cracked up to be, but it has become a symbol of opposition to fascism and racism, which is why it’s timely to talk about it now, when a leading politician – a former vice chair of the ruling Conservative party – talks about Muslims controlling London in just the same way that Mosley talked about Jews controlling London in 1936.

That, I think, accounts for the packed houses, and the rapturous reception the show received the night I was there, and I think receives most nights.  It shows that Londoners understand the times they live in.  This was an audience that knew that when a character on stage said something shocking about Jews, you only had to substitute Muslims and it could have been Lee Anderson MP.

But as a piece of theatre, does it work?  At one level, yes. It’s a noisy, tuneful, heroic celebration, told without much subtlety but with verve and brio. 

Cast (Photo: Jane Hobson)

But as a piece of theatre, does it work?  At one level, yes. It’s a noisy, tuneful, heroic celebration, told without much subtlety but with verve and brio. 

There are a lot of fine, energetic, talented performers on the Southwark Playhouse stage, whom it is a joy to watch.  My personal standouts were Sha Dessi as a young Irishwoman, with a wonderful, wild, strong singing voice and a personality to match; and Jez Unwin, a magnificently accomplished character actor who manages to play a fascist local commander, a religious Jew, and a modern tour guide, and to get so deep under the skin of each of these very different characters that he is utterly convincing every time, even though we recognise him.

For me, though, the show wanted to be joyful just a little too much.  It was noisy and tuneful until suddenly there were far too many people on the small stage, and unidentified leaflets were being thrown from the balcony, and you had lost track of which was the Jewish family, which the Irish family, which the family with a young fascist in it. 

It seemed almost to patronise the anti-fascists by presenting them joyfully and heroically.  There was no real attempt to show how fascists got that way.  True, one young man with whom we sympathise, unable to get work, threatened with eviction, becomes a fascist and we understand why – but he is, implausibly, thrown out of  the British Union of Fascists within days.  In the real world, that young man would have left in his own good time, when he saw fascism for what it was.

The historically absurd scene in which he is expelled has uniformed fascists acting like parody  sinister Nazis – “ve are asking ze kvestions.” It makes fascism no more dreadful – in fact, it almost sanitises fascism – to have its adherents behaving like stage villains from a children’s play.

Some of the best ideas seem stale.  The central romance – Jewish boy and Irish girl fall in love – was done much better, and given the complexity that it lacks here, in Martin McNamara’s Mosley Must Fall. A song “The rich blame the poor, The poor blame the rich, And everyone blames the Jews” has more than an echo of Tom Lehrer’s famous National Brotherhood Week: “The white folks hate the black folks, The black folks hate the white folks, And everyone hates the Jews.”

At over 2 ½ hours including interval, the show is a little longer than either the music or the plot can stand.  But it has charm, and talent, and musicality, and love, and it ends satisfactory with everyone uniting to fight the landlords.  Its heart is in the right place, and it’s very, very timely. 

Musical Numbers

Act One


My Street

What Next?

Ists and isms

BUF Anthem

Read All About It

Making a Mark

Let Me In

Bread and Roses

With enough pressure

Bread and Roses (reprise)

Read All About It 2

No Pasaran.


Act Two


Only Words

The Battle


Read All About It 3


One More Thing

Shut Me Out

Final Sequence

Production Notes

Cable Street

Composer and Lyricist Tim Gilvan
Book by Alex Kanefsky


Directed by Adam Lenson



Danny Colligan

Jade Johnson

Jez Unwin

Max Alexander-Taylor

Sophia Ragavelas

Debbie Chazen

Ethan Pascal Peters

Joshua Ginsberg

Sarah Leatherbarrow

Sha Dessi


Director:  Adam Lenson

Choreographer: Jevan Howard-Jones

Set Designer: Yoav Segal

Musical Supervisor and Arranger: Sarah Travis

Lighting Designer:  Sam Waddington

Sound Designer: Charlie Smith

Musical Director and Supervisor :  

Tamara Saringer


Running Time: Two hours 30 minutes with an interval

 Booking until 16th March 2024 


Southwark Playhouse

Newington Causeway

London SE1 6BD

Rail/Tube: Elephant and Castle

Reviewed by Francis Bennett

at the Southwark Playhouse

on 26th February 2024

Cast (photo: Jane Hobson)