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Up the Feeder, Down the ‘Mouth
The 2001 script of Up the Feeder, Down the ‘Mouth contains a simple stage direction: “The doors are opened, to reveal a ship docking.” For those lucky enough to see the dockside production it was an awe-inspiring moment, as a 1000-ton cargo ship hit her mark – on-time, every night. With working cranes, lorries, a steam train and swarms of extras moving goods around, Up the Feeder was a work of logistical genius. But it is also much more than an historical pageant. Anthony Smith’s dramatisation of life on Bristol’s City Docks is the emotional, witty and authentic voice of working people – the day-to-day stories of the men (and women) who worked the docks and sailed the seas. By listening to old dockers and their wives – and a few seamen – tell their stories and by faithfully recreating them in song and dialogue, Smith tells their story – by turns funny, sad, adventurous and tough. The play was first performed in 1997. Many in the audience at the Theatre Royal had seldom or never been to a theatre. They shouted out, ignoring the shushing, and every night elderly men were in tears. It was, of course, in recognition of the life they had known when there were still working ships in the heart of Bristol, a life that Up the Feeder, Down the ’Mouth articulates so brilliantly. Four years later the play was revived on the dock itself. With a bigger cast, cranes, boats and trains – and the Lucia, coming into dock at Prince’s Wharf – it caused a sensation. Even before the opening night every ticket had been sold; the Observer called it ‘the single most magical moment of the year’ and even now, those people lucky enough to have seen the show (and some who didn’t) talk about it with excitement and awe. This new edition, complete with historic photographs of the working docks and of the 2001 production, lets readers immerse themselves in the magic of Smith’s storytelling and to share the companionship, humour and hardships of a life on the docks. What it says about community spirit and the value of work is as fresh and as relevant as ever – perhaps more so in our post-industrial world. Above all, Up the Feeder is a celebration of the human spirit. Read it. Sing it. Talk about it.