Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Hairography: Vanities: The Musical

 
The secret of lasting friendships is really about having the correct fitting wig. Well, I think that's what it is after catching Vanities: The Musical. It's a musical valentine to soap opera dramatics and retro hair styles currently playing at Trafalgar Studios.

The show is given a heavy injection of talent with the performances by its three leading ladies. While this makes it very watchable, you are left wishing there was just something more in the material.

Saturday, September 10, 2016

Sweat shops: The Great Divide @Finborough

 
The Great Divide uses the worst industrial accident in history as the backdrop to explain the lives and times of some of the workers who lived and perished in the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire. 

It is playing on Sunday, Monday and Tuesday at the Finborough Theatre until 20 September. 

What is exciting about Alix Sobler's piece is how fragments of stories comes together to tell a much bigger one about immigration, dreams and unionisation against the backdrop of the deadliest workplace disaster in American history. 

 
The Triangle Shirtwaist Factory was on the lower east side of Manhattan located on the top floors of an 11 storey building. Most of its workers were migrants working for low pay and long hours. The custom and practice in factories was to lock doors and limit exits to prevent theft. Smoking was banned but people did anyway. 

So when fire broke out on 25 March 1911, the combination of flammable materials and no means of escape let to a fire of such intensity that many of the workers chose to jump out the window their deaths. This was a scene that would not be repeated until the 9-11 90 years later in a harrowing repetition of New York history. All told 146 workers died. Most of them were women. 

But the fire is not the only part of the story. Through necessity  women who left Russia and persecution find themselves in roles to provide for families. The harsh conditions and petty penalties led to an 11-week general strike for better working conditions in  1909. It also led to the growth of the union movement in the garment industry. 

The vast storytelling gives the actors a number of roles as storytellers moving from the old land to the new. But at the centre of the piece is Rosa (played by Hannah Genesius . She is the dreamer turned pragmatist in the piece as she comes to New York and needs to find work to survive. Genesius keeps the piece focussed and the pace moving like a conductor. 

Josh Collins as her potential partner is terrific and gives the piece some welcome humour. Emma King as her friend at the factory gives the piece warmth. 

While the tragedy led to improved practices, it is hard not to question whether much has changed or whether some of the practices have just moved offshore. Primark Shirts made in substandard factories that collapsed in Bangladesh. H&M factories without proper fire exits. iPhones made at Foxconn where there is a high suicide rate.  Even closer to home there is Sports Direct running a modern day workhouse in its own distribution centre. 

Going to work is still a matter of life and death for many. At least some of us can demand better from the places we shop at and where we invest our money.

Directed by Rory McGregor, The Great Divide is at the Finborough Theatre on Sunday and Monday evenings and Tuesday matinees until 20 September.

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Photos: production photos by Graeme Braidwood

Updated to correct errors in the dates

 

Monday, September 05, 2016

Eat your young: Unfaithful @found111


The central message from Unfaithful by Owen McCafferty is that it is still an older persons world. The older generation is screwing the younger generation over and over. They get the early retirements, they clinched Brexit, and they get free TV licences. All at the expense of the younger generations who will pay for it. And here those youngsters are also fair game for sex.

For fifty-something couple Tom and Joan, it’s too late to do anything else. They are stuck with each other. But the play opens with Tom confessing that he had a sexual relationship with a younger woman. So Joan seeks revenge sex by hiring a male escort.

Meanwhile Tara is bored working at the checkout at Tescos and her frustrated her partner Peter - a male escort - doesn’t have a day job.

And thus begins this four hander about relationships. It is full of dirty talk about eating this and fucking that. But mostly it is middle-aged sex fantasy and I suspect an excellent show to catch if you’re over fifty. For the rest of us it is a harrowing experience.

Sunday, September 04, 2016

Mad about the boy: Britten in Brooklyn @wiltonmusichall


Britten in Brooklyn currently playing at Wilton’s Music Hall is a good looking production. But the trouble with a piece about artists at their least artistic period of their lives is that not a lot happens. In the end you feel as if you have been watching Celebrity Big Brother, without the cheap thrills of seeing anyone being a cat... Or getting confused about which David died.

At the height of the Second World War, Benjamin Britten takes off to America, avoiding conscription and the conflict in Europe. He stays in Brooklyn in an artistic commune with his friend poet WH Auden. Writer Carson McCullers and Gypsy Rose Lee are also staying there.

I was half-expecting an evening of debauchery and creativity. But it was mostly introspection. Still upset over the death of his mother and reception of his works in England, Britten is seeking solace from all that. He also is coming to grips with his homosexuality, budding relationship with Peter Peers and his pacifism.