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How did the project begin?

When Katherine Brewed is the result of an ongoing seven-year collaboration between Mark O’Brien and John Cresswell. Way back in 2004 Mark published a small book on the Peasant’s Revolt of 1381: When Adam Delved and Eve Span. A History of the Peasants’ Revolt of 1381. John meanwhile had been establishing himself as an actor and playwright. After a chance catch-up chat at the bar of the Marxism 2016 event in London, Mark and John hatched the idea of writing and producing a play based upon this amazing story from English history.

Why is this story important today?

During June 1381 the peasants of England rose up against their feudal lords and came within a cat’s whisker of overthrowing the monarchy!

It was an amazing episode in English history. It happened a long time ago; over six and a half centuries ago, in fact. The chronicles of the time that tell the story, describe a late feudal society that was very different from our own.

And yet the story of the rising serves also as a powerful metaphor for the struggles of the oppressed and the exploited in every generation since. The Levellers of the English Civil War 1642-1651 celebrated the rising. Thomas Paine refers to the revolt in his 1791 revolutionary pamphlet The Rights of Man. In the twentieth century the historians of the British Communist Party, Rodney Hilton and Hyman Fagan, wrote about it in their The English Rising of 1381 (1950).

Certainly, the great themes of the Revolt are relevant today. Contagion created its backdrop with the Great Plague of the middle of the 14th Century. War dominated English life in the years leading up to it. Taxation antagonised the population, as did the venality of the church and the hypocrisy, double standards and cynicism of the rich. But more than the immediate demands of the revolt, the inspiration of a communist ideal raised the sights of the rebels to imagine a world that could be radically different from the one in which they lived.

The story of the rising is more resonant now than ever before. In this age of pandemic, war, inequality and oppression, we can relate to the sense of social injustice and anger felt by the rebels of 1381. Today, their voices of protest, and their demands for justice and radical social change, still ring down through the centuries.

When Katherine Brewed tells and performs the story of the revolt for the modern audiences of today’s capitalist, sick and war-ridden world.


How the project developed

Mark became fascinated by the story of the revolt in the early 2000s, and read all of the available histories, from some of the mediaeval chronicles, to accounts written by left historians in the 1930s, 1940s, and 1950s, and by contemporary academics.

In 2004 he published a short history of the revolt: When Adam Delved and Eve Span: A History of the Peasants' Revolt of 1381, New Clarion Press.


This led to Mark appearing on Tony Robinson's Time Team two-hour special about the Peasants' Revolt, bringing the story to a television audience.

Following the chance encounter between Mark and John, work towards obtaining funding began. Success came in the form of £5k from the Artists International Development Fund of the British Council.

This paid for Mark, John and a collaborator Colin Leggo, to travel to Philadelphia to work with a US theatre group there for one week to produce a first script. The group were hosted by Professor Andy Lamas of the University of Pennsylvania. Mark, John and Colin were very pleased to work with amazing actors in Philadelphia - Mary Toumanen, Becky Martin and Theodora Rodine.

The script will eventually be published with Open Book Publishers. This is an open-source publisher, and it will be free to download. Production companies and theatre groups will be able to adapt it to suit their cultural and political context, to make it relevant to their audiences. Wherever availability allows performances will use non-traditional casting so that any actor - of any sex, gender, ethnicity, or ability-status - will be able to play any role. Staging the play, will require only very small budgets, and will need minimal staging effects and propping. 

Work on the play stopped for two years as it did with so many other projects, because of the Covid crisis and lockdown. Workshops that had been planned for 2020 to develop the script, could not go ahead. Finally, in February 2022, they did.

Three days of workshops took place at the Rose and Crown theatre in Walthamstow, London. A rehearsed reading happened at the end of the workshopping week, on the evening of Friday 11 February. A paying audience of 70 attended that evening, with half of the proceeds going to the Stand Up to Racism campaign.

The result of the workshops and Friday performance, was a much-developed script, but still with much left to improve.

A second rehearsed reading happened at the Marxism Festival in London on 2 July, 2022.


When Katherine Brewed first appeared as a fully staged play in autumn 2023, with performances in London, Liverpool and Harlow.

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