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Both Red and Beautiful

Book Review by Dave Sherry, October 2005

Review of 'Krassivy', Freddy Anderson, Glasgow Caledonian University 7.99

Krassivy is a play about the Clydeside anti-war socialist John Maclean. It was written by the Glasgow-based, Irish-born poet and playwright Freddy Anderson in the 1960s. Freddy was a down to earth dreamer who lived on a council estate in the east end of Glasgow. The play was first performed by a community drama group at the Edinburgh Festival in 1979 to mark the centenary of John Maclean's birth.

The inherent quality of Anderson's work and the power of its performance meant that Krassivy: The John Maclean Show played to packed houses in both Edinburgh and Glasgow throughout the Maclean centenary celebrations in 1979. At the time the Scotsman - a much better and more popular newspaper than the present publication - awarded the play its 'Festival Fringe First Prize' and described it as 'a must for every Festival Fringegoer who wants to know about Scotland'.

Given its critical and popular acclaim, it's not clear why Krassivy wasn't published at the time or subsequently. After all, Anderson's work was championed by better known writers like Hamish Henderson. However, the play has been rescued and commercially published for the first time by Research Collections at Glasgow Caledonian University. Although it was written nearly 40 years ago and is dated in that sense, it still remains surprisingly fresh and topical.

Krassivy is the Russian word which means both 'beautiful' and 'red' - an apt description for the man Lenin regarded as Britain's outstanding revolutionary. John Maclean was a prominent anti-imperialist and the biggest thorn in the side of the government during the First World War. He was one of the very few British socialists to publicly defend the Dublin Easter Rising in 1916. The state imprisoned Maclean five times. Twice he was charged with sedition and condemned to lengthy terms of penal servitude, twice he was released through mass international protest.

Maclean was elected honorary president of the workers' government in Russia, and appointed as the official Soviet consul in Glasgow in 1918. He was only 44 when he died from poverty and physical exhaustion in 1923 - his death hastened by the hunger strikes, forced feeding and harsh treatment he endured as a political prisoner. Some 10,000 workers lined the streets of Glasgow on his funeral.

The author, Freddy Anderson, was born in Ireland in the turbulent 1920s. After the Second World War he moved to Glasgow and settled there, becoming a member of the blossoming left wing Unity Theatre Company. Freddy was also a long-term member of the Communist Party and a well respected writer for the movement. He died in 2001.

Krassivy was part of the attempt to rescue Maclean from obscurity. It is packed full of Freddy's warmth and commitment. He populates his play with friends, foes, characters and incidents from Maclean's life and times. It pokes fun and indicts the establishment past and present. It stands as a good representation of popular, late 1960s/early 1970s political theatre because it was written for and taken to sizeable working class audiences in working class venues.

The play is irreverent and funny. But it also conveys sadness, a sense of struggle as well as its hero's internationalism and courage. Glasgow Caledonian University deserves credit for publishing and rescuing the play.

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