The Theatreguide.London Review
Donmar Warehouse Theatre Winter 2018-2019
the 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 could.
are 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.
exist across America, and British audiences might be reminded of
takes 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.
that 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
we 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
then 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 forever.
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.
may 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 economic questions.
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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