Review: The Legend of Ned Ludd

The Legend of Ned Ludd
Date: 26/04/2024

Anxiety. Alienation. Amazon. The Legend of Ned Ludd asks what happens when there’s no more work for human beings and that triptych seems to provide the answer.

A cast of three juggle dozens of character across 16 vignettes (there are 256 potential permutations), all of which ponder the nature or work – or lack of it – and build towards a heady climax, from across time and geography: Communist, early-space-age Russia; Liverpool during the earliest days of the Everyman; 19th-century Paris work Mark and Engels; grimy, modern Detroit and more.

The Legend of Ned Ludd, Shaun Mason - photo © Marc Brenner

Some stories pay off; others remain tantalisingly oblique and we’re destined never to know what becomes of the characters we briefly meet. Shaun Mason does the hard yards, seemingly central to most storylines; Reuben Johnson gets the powerful pay-off – a desperate end for one of history’s Ned Ludds in early Industrial Revolution-era Nottingham, facing off against Menyee Lai.

All the play’s characters are facing uncertainty over employment as technology, illness or events conspire to threaten their livelihoods, the spectre of automation, of redundancy of all kinds looms over them. A quick look at news headlines should remind us that the more things change, the more they stay the same. Some stories feel familiar, others are more abstract or elusive – all are doled out by something akin to a gig-economy lottery machine, outputting cardboard boxes filled with props and costumes for whatever story comes next.

The Legend of Ned Ludd, Menyee Lai with Reuben Johnson - photo © Marc Brenner

As the cast take their places on front of the monstrous device to see what fate has in store, we might imagine parallels in the real lives of workers in factories, heavy industry or even white collar jobs, waiting to see whether The Machine will decide they are now redundant.

Many of us are about to find out, but while The Legend of Ned Ludd doesn’t produce much cheer it does engineer a timely, thoughtful rumination of what employment is, what it means and what happens when it’s gone. Joe Ward Munrow’s play doesn’t totally convince as a coherent piece but feels important and challenging: just the sort of work the Everyman should be making in its 60th year.

The Legend of Ned Ludd
Liverpool Everyman
Until 11 May

• All images by Mark Brenner