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Maydays

David Edgar

Read a brief synopsis of Maydays and familiarise yourself with the story and characters.

Synopsis

David Edgar has updated his 1983 hit play, Maydays for a modern audience. Read the plot summary below.

Revolutionary Ideals

The end of the second world war created huge hopes of fundamental social change in Britain. However, these hopes were quickly dashed. Like many of his generation, schoolboy Martin Glass protests against Britain’s nuclear weapons. He is befriended by a former communist teacher, Jeremy Crowther. Martin visits America, where he is inspired by movements of opposition to racial discrimination and the Vietnam war, and returns to join in the political and cultural uprising by students and young people which came to a head in 1968.

Seeking a way to put his revolutionary ideals into practice, he is torn between the anarchist ideas of his friend Phil and Amanda, a single mother, and member of a small Trotskyite party, Socialist Vanguard. Beaten up by the police during an anti-apartheid protest, Martin takes Amanda’s advice and joins the party. 

Defection

Now a university lecturer, Jeremy becomes disillusioned with student protests. Martin’s friend Phil is imprisoned on terrorism charges; campaigning for the conviction to be overturned, Martin visits Jeremy and is alarmed to discover how far Jeremy has moved to the right. But Martin himself is expelled from Socialist Vanguard. Now living with Amanda, he loses faith in the left, and announces his defection at a May Day party in 1975...

Eastern dissent

Meanwhile, in Eastern Europe, dissent with Soviet communism is growing. In 1956, the Soviet Union invades Hungary to suppress democratic reforms. A Soviet Army officer, Pavel Lermontov, interviews a young Hungarian protestor, Paloczi, and is persuaded that what is happening is not a counter-revolution but a genuine uprising against an oppressive regime.

Back in Russia, Lermontov tries to raise a petition in support of six Soviet citizens arrested for protesting against the 1968 invasion of Czechoslovakia. He sends the petition abroad, is attacked in the Soviet press as a renegade and traitor, is tried for anti-Soviet agitation and is imprisoned.

Jeremy becomes involved in Miklos Paloczi’s campaign for Lermontov’s release. After nine years in the gulag, Lermontov is exchanged for a Russian spy imprisoned in the west, and comes to Britain.

Symbol of resistance

For Paloczi, and for Jeremy, Lermontov is a symbol of resistance. They argue that trade union power and the corporate state is leading Britain towards a Soviet-style society. Martin has become well-known as a propagandist against the left and for the free market, and is invited to interview Lermontov for the Sunday Times. Lermontov becomes increasingly concerned about the agenda of the people who rescued him; at the same time, Martin is encouraged to become an advocate for the state to take ever stronger measures against what is increasingly defined as an “enemy within”.

Both men face a fundamental choice about who they should ally with, what they believe, and where those beliefs should take them...