The Theatreguide.London Review
Donmar Warehouse Theatre Winter 2018-2019; Gielgud Theatre Summer 2019
best tradition of American drama, Lynn Nottage's Pulitzer Prize winning
play addresses large social issues through indirection, by showing their
effect on the daily lives of ordinary people. All the more powerful for
remaining local and specific, it says more than a more polemic piece
in a company town, the sort of place where just about everyone works for
one big employer, people take a factory job right out of school and plan
on retiring from the same job fifty years later, and their highest hope is
that their children will be able to get a job on the same factory floor.
towns do exist across America, and British audiences might be reminded of
no spoiler alert to guess what's going to happen in the course of the
play. An economic downturn will lead the company to cut back and even
consider moving the factory someplace where labour is cheaper, and
hundreds of lives will be affected.
happens later. Nottage deliberately takes her time establishing this
world, the entire first act devoted to vignettes of various workers' lives
before the crisis.
setting for most of the action is a local bar, where everyone stops for a
beer after work and maybe for some binging on weekends. We see how their
shared world of work and common economic situation create friendships that
transcend differences of age and race.
also see that ordinary friendly joshing sometimes hovers precariously on
the edge of going too far, that the one young man with hopes of going to
college is ridiculed for having ideas above his station, and that lifetime
friendships can be threatened when one person gets a promotion that moves
her across the symbolic line into management.
the company announces cutbacks and a combination of strike and lockout
changes everything – not just everyone's financial situation (which is
barely mentioned) but relationships, self-definitions and self-control,
climaxing in both reasoned decisions and impulsive acts that change lives
Lynette Linton's able direction a cast of American and British actors
blend together beautifully to create a reality that is totally convincing
and totally absorbing. The strongest performances, in the most fully
developed characters, come from Clare Perkins as the worker who finds that
taking a better job somehow makes her a villain in the others' eyes, and
Martha Plimpton as the most upset and therefore most angry of the workers.
have been Clifford Odets, in his Depression-era plays, who first realised
that the natural American mode is to focus on the specific and domestic
rather than addressing broad (and inevitably nebulous) political and
Lynn Nottage's play, and this deeply affecting production, build on that insight that a play must above all be about people to be an effective comment on issues.
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