noimage Pillars of Society (1877)
Henrik Ibsen
Karsten Bernick is a shipbuilder who has become a pillar of society in a small Norwegian coastal town through lies and corruption. This is more a play about bourgeois morality than shipbuilding but the shipyard does play a crucial role in the plot. Bernick’s brother-in-law, who knows the truth behind Bernick’s success, is due to sail on a ship being repaired at the yard. The yard foreman is forced to complete the ship hurriedly and send it to sea in a dangerous condition. However, the brother-in-law sets off in another ship and Bernick’s son stows away on board, leading to a dramatic turnaround by Bernick who confesses all.

Henrik Ibsen, Pillars of Society, and Other Plays, (London, 1888).
noimage The Greater Glory (1908)
Estelle Burney
MacEwen in the ruthless Scottish owner of Maisley Shipyard. His young chief designer, Sherrard, takes the workers’ side in an industrial dispute, but is beaten. In revenge he deliberately designs a submarine that he believes will sink and bring ruin to MacEwen. Despite himself, the submarine is a success, proving that his craftsmanship is greater than his thirst for vengeance.

Performed by The Pioneers at Shaftsbury Theatre only once on 19 January 1908. ‘As a study of a phase of life, the strenuous life of industrial enterprise and of labour conflicts, the play is a remarkable one for a woman to have written. The scenes introducing the workmen are very strong and vivid, and the leaders were extremely well played.’ The English Illustrated Magazine, 38 1908, 554-58.

noimage Milestones (1912)
Arnold Bennett & Edward Knoblauch (Knoblock)
A play in three acts about the changing attitudes of successive generations. It centres around a shipbuilding family and the change from wood to iron, then from iron to steel.
One of Arnold Bennett’s most successful plays. Two film versions were made, one in 1916 and another in 1920.

Arnold Bennett and Edward Knoblauch, Milestones: A play in three acts, (London, 1912)
noimage The Ship (1922)
St. John Ervine
Play set in the Belfast shipyards. For John Thurlow, shipbuilding is the greatest adventure and absorbs all his creative passion. His pride in it destroys his only son, who was his unwilling deputy aboard the Titanic. The son cared for nothing for ships abd loathed machinery, loved handicrafts, nature and the simple life. The father forces the issue and youth is destroyed.

St. John G, Ervine, The Ship: A play in three acts, (London, 1922).
noimage Clyde-built (1922)
George Blake
Story of the Crockett family, builders of ships’ boats, set in their Greenock house in 1913. Jean is in love with sailor Harry Douglas, but her family do not approve. The firm is going bust and they are trying to match her with Stanley Merson, son of the owner of a Tyneside shipbuilding conglomerate, in charge of their Glasgow shipyard. Merson’s are looking to buy a life-boat works which would save the Crockett family from bankruptcy. Harry is shipwrecked in a Merson built ship. He returns and accuses Merson of building a Jerry-built ship that sullied the reputation of the Clyde. Old Mr Crockett refuses to have anything more to do with Merson’s and preserves his Clyde-built reputation. Produced by the Scottish National Players at the Athenaeum Theatre, Glasgow 23 Nov 1922.

‘A creditable piece of work… The plot is simple, conventional maybe, but infused with some real dramatic moments.’ Glasgow Herald, 24 Nov 1922

George Blake, Clyde-built, (Glasgow, 1922).
noimage Diplomacy and the Draughtsman (1929)
T.M. Watson
A light-hearted view of the tensions between office staff and manual workers, set in the Clyde yards. First performed by Labour College Players, Keir Hardie Institute, Glasgow. One act comedy about a foreman plater’s daughter who marries a draughtsman, rather than the riveter her father prefers.

T.M. Watson, Diplomacy and the Draughtsman, (Glasgow, 1929).
noimage Workers (1932)
Thomas Carnduff
Set in Belfast. Susan, a working-class girl, endures a difficult marriage to shipyard worker John Waddell, an alcoholic wife-beater. After much persuasion, she decides to leave him for Jim Bowman, her former sweetheart and Waddell’s fellow-worker. At her point of departure, Waddell is seriously injured at the shipyard and Susan decides her ultimate duty is to stay by his side. First produced at the Abbey Theatre, Dublin, October 1932.

noimage Return to Clyde (1934)
Edward Shiels
The SS Marmora, having completed a long life of usefulness, is returning to Glasgow to be broken up. During the last few miles of the voyage Alec Stuart, an engineer, tells a passenger how much the old ship means to him. His father had taken a part in her making, and had been killed almost on the very spot on which they stand talking. The action takes place on the Marmora, the living-room of the Stuarts’ home in Glasgow and a Clyde shipbuilding yard. Radio play broadcast 9 July 1934.

noimage Industry (1938)
Thomas Carnduff
Belfast’s great industries, and the lives of the people who run them, inspired this new play by Thomas Carnduff, who for many years worked in a Belfast shipyard. Set in 1920, it is the poignant story of the Armstrong family and the price they pay in wringing a meagre livelihood from shipyard and factory. It is written with the insight and sympathy of one who has lived among the people -one who is, in fact, of the people. Radio play broadcast 29 December 1938.

Act 1: The Armstrongs’ home, York Street, Belfast
Act 2: A Belfast Weaving Factory
Act 3: A Belfast Shipyard

noimage When the Boys Come Home (1945)
James Barke

Set in the foreman steel checker’s office in a Clydeside shipyard where men and women gather to discuss the war and the hope that when the boys come home there will be a place worthy of their sacrifice. A story of ordinary working people and their hopes and fears for the future. First performed by the Unity Theatre, June 1945.

‘That Mr Burke is well qualified to write such a play there is no doubt, for he himself works in the drawing office of a Glasgow shipyard.’ Glasgow Herald, 22 June 1946.

noimage The Port (1946)
Oliver Wilkinson and the Lithgow Club Drama Group
A play produced by the workers of the Lithgow shipyard at Port Glasgow, covering almost twenty years of life in Port Glasgow. It is told through the story of a young shipyard apprentice, an orphan who boards with a plater and his family. The plot covers the cycle of prosperity, depression and the war as they affected shipyard folk. There are nine scenes, linked by music and commentary, and forty characters.

‘The play has the quality of a good documentary film and should be translated into one, for it is essentially quick changing in mood and background. Written under the guidance of Oliver Wilkinson and produced by the Shipyard Padre, the Rev. George Wilkie, ‘The Port’ was one of the few remarkable events of Scottish theatre in the past year.’ W.B. ‘A Shipyard Writes a Play’, Scottish Music and Drama, 1946, 58

noimage Over the Bridge (1957)
Sam Thompson
Charts the tragic course of a sectarian dispute in the Belfast shipyard. A Catholic worker is mobbed by protestant workers, following an IRA explosion. Explores the conflicting loyalties of sectarianism and trade unionism. A tragedy but with moments of comedy. First performed at the Lyric Theatre Belfast in January 1960, when shipyard workers were used in the performance. Subsequently adapted for radio and television.

Sam Thompson, Three Plays, (Belfast, 1997).
noimage The Randy Dandy (1960)
Stewart Love
A Belfast shipyard version of the ‘angry young man’. Dandy Jordan works in the shipyards and likes poetry – he’s a ‘poetical plater’ – a man with an independent mind and roguish spirit who rejects the stereotype of the boozed, macho labourer. There’s a strike in the shipyard and Dandy refuses to fall in line, sensing that the top brass are manipulating the workers for their own ends. He dares to be different, an individual among the crowd: ‘I don’t fit in with the popular conception of what a man should be in these parts. I don’t beat my wife, I don’t drink, and I don’t stand in the bookies.’ First performed by the Ulster Group Theatre in 1960 and broadcast by BBC TV on 14 September 1961.

Stewart Love, Selected Plays, (Belfast, 2010).
noimage The Big Donkey (1963)
Stewart Love
Personal tragedy of unemployment in the Belfast shipyard. Joe Maxwell is a decent family man but intellectually limited. His world falls apart when he is laid off. His reactions are disastrous as he betrays his friend Eddie by stealing his job. A man acts for the best and destroys all that he loves. Produced as a BBC TV Sunday Play, broadcast 31 March 1963. ‘a gripping study of soul erosion in a Belfast shipyard.’ Daily Telegraph.

Stewart Love, Selected Plays, (Belfast, 2010).
noimage The Great Northern Welly Boot Show (1972)
Tom Buchan & Billy Connolly
A comic celebration of the Upper Clyde Shipbuilders work-in transposed to a welly boot factory. First produced at the King’s Theatre, Glasgow 1972, then toured nationally.

noimage Willie Rough (1972)
Bill Bryden
An angry play that harks back to the days of Red Clydeside. Willie Rough is a socialist shipbuilder in the Greenock shipyards during the First World War. He organises a strike for more pay and writes an anti-war pamphlet. He is imprisoned and on his return cannot get work again.

Bill Bryden, Willie Rough, (Edinburgh, 1972).
noimage The Shipbuilder (1978)
Ken Mitchell
Based on the true story of Tom Sukanen, a Finnish immigrant to Saskatchewan who built a ship in the middle of the prairie in an attempt to sail back home.

Ken Mitchell, The Shipbuilder, (Saskatoon, 1990).
noimage Sailmaker (1982)
Alan Spence
A play version of Spence’s earlier short story which is an allegory of the lost days of Clyde shipbuilding. This play is richly imaginative, alive with its chatracters’ humour and optimism. It is also sad and haunting. Davie is an out-of-work sailmaker whose son, Alec, finds a model yacht in the family glory hole. The yacht needs sails and Davie offers to make them. First performed at the Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh, 29 April 1982.

Alan Spence, Sailmaker, (London, 1988).
noimage Shipyard Tales (1983-90)
Welfare State International
A cycle of eleven plays produced in collaboration with the community of Barrow in Furness, exploring themes of work, politics and the impact of the shipyard on society. The finale of the cycle, The Golden Submarine, was described as ‘a grand example of carnivalesque agit prop, participatory celebratory protest, perhaps at its most powerfully subversive’. Baz Kershaw, The Politics of Performance: Radical theatre as cultural intervention, (Oxford, 1992).

noimage The Ship (1990)
Bill Bryden
This was one of the centrepieces of Glasgow’s year as European Capital of Culture in 1990. It was staged in the derelict Harland & Wolff engine shop in Govan. The setting was evocative and the special effects impressive, with part of the stage set being ‘launched’ as the finale, but essentially the play was an exercise in wallowing in nostalgia.

Unpublished. Original production broadcast on TV.
noimage The Daphne Disaster (1999)
Frank Miller
The first of Miller’s Govan Trilogy. A Play about the inquiry into the Daphne disaster in which 124 people died during a ship launch. Performed at Pearce Institute and Citizen’s Theatre, Glasgow 1999. ‘A production that is authentic and revealing though somehow unfulfilling dramatically’ The Herald

noimage Work-in (2001)
Frank Miller
The final part of Miller’s Govan Trilogy (the second is about the Govan rent strike). Play about UCS work-in. First performed May 2001, Citizens Theatre, Glasgow.

‘When a community stands together to fight injustice great things are possible. The final part of our Govan Trilogy celebrates one such achievement. Faced with the closure of the shipyards on the upper Clyde, bringing massive redundancy, the workers decided to fight. The tactic they adopted, a work-in, had never been tried before. No one knew if, or how, it would work but they took a leap of faith; faith in their leadership and faith in their work-mates. That faith would be tested.’ Work-in programme notes.

Unpublished. Excerpts in Martin Bellamy, The Shipbuilders: An anthology of Scottish shipyard life, (Edinburgh, 2001).
noimage Geraniums in the Shipyard (2002)
Leonard Barras
Barras takes us aboard the Howden Belle as she casts off from Wallsend boat landing in 1933. As we travel with the shipmates to their destination, we learn of the plight of North-East shipbuilding and how specific moments and events can change the way you look at life for ever. Performed at the Live Theatre, Newcastle Upon Tyne, February 2002.

noimage Spàrr (2008)
Fablevision (Ian Stephen, scriptwriter, Frank Miller, artistic director)
A community play developed to explore the links between highland boatbuilders and the shipyards of Govan. Spàrr is the Gaelic word for rivet. ‘Sparr reveals the skills, motivations and inspirations of those Gaels from the Western Islands who were inspired by the craft of the shipwright and travelled to Govan at the time of the Highland Clearances, bringing their traditional shipbuilding skills to the newly industrialised Clydeside ship building industry. Spàrr looks at the significance of the industry, of the shipwright, and the legacy left by our seafaring and industrial cultures’. Performed in the Harland & Wolff shed, Govan, 14 &15 November 2008.

noimage 30 Days in Walton Jail (2008)
Mark Yates and the GMB Writers Group
The play depicts a trade union dispute that took place in 1984 and culminated in 37 Cammel Laird shipbuilders in Birkenhead being jailed. The shipyard workers occupied two projects being built in the yard to defend their jobs. One was a gas field accommodation rig and the other was a Type 42 destroyer. The occupation lasted for six months until 37 trade union members were jailed and spent 30 days in Walton jail. First performed October 2008.

noimage The Boat Factory (2009)
Dan Gordon
A children’s play commissioned by the Ulster-Scots Agency. It tells the story of a new apprentice in the Belfast Shipyard in the late 1950s. Willie McCandless is 14 years old. When he arrives late for his first day of work at Harland and Wolff, fellow apprentice, Tucker Wylie, takes him under his wing and explains to Willie what life in ‘The Boat Factory’ with 35 000 men will be like. He learns all about their foreman, Moocher McQuillan and the tricks that the men will play on him.

Dan Gordon, The Boat Factory, (Belfast, 2009).
noimage Down Our Street (2009)
Brian McCann
A musical play celebrating the life and times of Cammell Laird Shipbuilders. The town of Birkenhead was built around the Shipbuilding industry and most families, if not all had some connection to Cammell Laird. Down Our Street celebrates this through the eyes of the people of Birkenhead and the workers down the yard.

Brian McCann, Down Our Street; The birth, the struggle, and the pride of a ship-building town , (Birkenhead, 2009).
noimage This World in a Woman’s Hands (2009)
Marcus Gardley
A jazz musical play that explores the lives of the women who worked in the Richmond Shipyards of California during World War II – who became collectively known as Rosie the Riveter. From the press release: ‘We all know the image: the proud white woman flexing her muscle with the phrase “We Can Do It”. An image you rarely see, however, is of the hundreds of African American women who also took part in the war effort. As an African American playwright, Mr. Gardley was drawn to the story because his grandmother came from the South herself to work in the Richmond Shipyards.’ First performed by the Shotgun Players at the Ashby Stage, Berkeley, September – October 2009.

noimage Last Rites (2009)
Joseph M. Paprzycki
A play about the closing of a shipyard in Camden, NJ and it impact on the community.Last Rites is a play about misplaced faith. It unfolds in Camden, New Jersey in 1967 as this blue-collar city experiences the closing of a major shipyard. If the shipyard is the heart of south Camden, then the soul of this working-class neighborhood is Walt’s Café, a mom and pop corner bar. Here you meet the owners, Walt and Sue Evanuk, whose lives revolve around the rhythms of lunch whistles and shipyard work shifts as they serve up beers and sandwiches to steamfitters, welders and shipbuilders. It is here where new rumors about the shipyard’s closing are discussed and discounted. You bear witness to the lives of the ship workers, their wives, and the parish priests as they pass through the doors of Walt and Sue’s bar and give their testament to the stress and strain that economic and social change has brought to their lives and to their beloved city.

Joseph M. Paprzycki, Last Rites, (East Brunswick, NJ, 2009).
noimage The Boat Factory (2010)
Dan Gordon
A re-working of Gordon’s earlier play. The story is told through the eyes of yardman, Davy Gordon and his fellow worker Geordie Kilpatrick, as they recount the glory days of the yard. Gordon drew his inspiration from his own youth, growing up in east Belfast and watching his father, grandfather and brothers become skilled yard workers.

‘I’ve used the title again. That and the subject matter are the only real similarities. I just was in love with the title and I used it with the children’s play I did with the Ulster Scots Agency, but this is a different piece. It’s an adult piece. It’s a historical look and a fond look and a celebration of Harland & Wolff shipyard.’

noimage The Last Ship (2014)
A musical inspired by Sting’s own childhood experiences and the shipbuilding industry of Tyneside. It tells the story of the shipbuilding community and the demise of the industry following the closure of Swan Hunter. When the yard closes, the community unites behind the union firebrand to build one last ship. Played on Broadway from November 2015 to January 2015.

‘Rich in atmosphere … and buoyed by a seductive score that ranks among the best composed by a rock or pop figure for Broadway, the musical explores with grit and compassion the lives of the town’s disenfranchised citizens, left behind as the industry that gave them their livelihood set sail for foreign lands.’ New York Times, 26 October 2014