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 The Theatreguide.London Review

Skeleton Crew
Donmar Warehouse Theatre   Summer 2024

Workplace closures can be messy, distressing experiences. Employers prefer to give employees as little notice as possible to avoid interruptions to their plans.

 Dominique Morisseau’s Skeleton Crew, first performed Off-Broadway in 2016, lets us see the impact of part of that process on four black workers at a Detroit car plant during the 2008 economic crash.

 The play, directed by Matthew Xia, takes place in the down-at-heel breakroom designed by Ultz. The back wall is half stacked with grey lockers atop of which sit piles of yellow work helmets. A stained fridge and some basic coffee-making equipment are at the other end of the wall.

 Occasionally, between scenes in subdued lighting, we hear the loud harsh metallic shunting of the factory lines.

 Reggie (Tobi Bamtefa), who at one time worked on the line, has risen to be a supervisor. He arrives to the breakroom after a disturbing meeting with management who have revealed to him in confidence their closure plans.

 Agitated, he confides the news to Faye (Pamela Nomvete), who is practically part of his family, asking her not to reveal it to anyone.

 Although she is a rep for The United Auto Workers (UAW) union, she feels loyal to Reggie and is hesitant to do anything that might prevent her from adding one more year of work to her pension pot. It would also be risky to draw attention to herself, given she has become homeless and is secretly sleeping at the plant.

 Thus she says nothing about the closure to other workers who share the breakroom, though that doesn’t stop them from hearing rumours circulating in the plant.

 Dez (Branden Cook), who has been saving money to start his own business, has heard them so is not surprised when he also hears that the place is experiencing a sudden spate of thefts. He recalls a friend who worked long hard hours producing great work surrounded by valuable equipment he never stole only to be suddenly dumped by his employer who left him with nothing.

 The pregnant Shanita (Racheal Ofori) who is incredibly proud of her skills in “building something that you can see come to life” wants to continue working at the plant and has recently turned down a decent job elsewhere to do so.

 She is also carefully fond of Dez who walks her to her car each evening. It's a mutual affection that grows during the play’s 150-minute running time.

 This well-performed glimpse of four workers is more interested in sketching believable characters than developing or resolving political or dramatic issues. It’s a gentle warm-hearted journey with no shocks, sudden bumps in the road or moments of over-heated excitement.

 Inevitably it will be compared with two other plays at the Donmar on the same political theme set in the USA.

 In 2019 Lynne Nottage’s brilliant Sweat and in 2023 her uplifting Clyde’s took us to the industrial devastation of Pennsylvania. It is curious that the Donmar can find three fine workplace dramas in such a short period when most theatres have never performed one in their entire existence.

Keith McKenna

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Review of Skeleton Crew - Donmar Theatre  2024

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