OUT OF THE CAGE
by Alex Mc Sweeney.
Park Theatre (Park 90) Clifton Terrace Finsbury Park N4 3JP To 14 February 2015.
Tue-Sat 7.45pm Mat Thu & Sat 3.15pm.
Runs 2hr 5min One interval.
TICKETS: 020 7870 6876.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 22 January.
Physically dynamic exploration of war on the Home Front.
Among plays marking the 30th anniversary of the Miner’s Strike was Red Ladder’s We’re Not Going Back, which focused on miners’ wives. As the pitmen clearly did eventually go back, its defiant tone referred to women who had found a new social identity and weren’t for returning to being household appendages of ‘their men’.
Similarly the First World War brought new opportunities to working-class women. The propaganda posters lining the Park 90’s corridor show that government intended to make the women obedient factory drudges instead of household ones. But Alex McSweeney’s play, which isn’t a musical but incorporates several strong women-workers’ songs, shows their spirit set loose with various aspirations.
They fought against lower wages than men, spuriously justified by their not having the same range of responsibilities – which they were denied the chance to take. The male unions also fought against women being treated equally, and any threat to male jobs.
McSweeney’s first act shows tensions between the women – an Irish hothead wanting communism tomorrow despises a middle-class sympathiser who’s frightened by the plan for a strike. There are the drinkers, the questionably reliable, the sick. And young Ginny, new to all this and so desperate for money she volunteers for the ‘Danger Room’, which is already seeing Dee to an early grave.
These agendas clash in the night-before meeting, where McSweeney forestalls any formulaic tendency through the clear sense of each character, pointedly orchestrated in his own production. And by the conviction with which the magnificent cast maintain tensions between characters, openly as they meet, then uneasily suppressed in the second half, set in the hours leading up to the stoppage. Here they face Heather Bleasdale’s forewoman, Ol’ Mum, well aware of what’s planned and arguing against it with a tough confidence.
It might be verbatim dialogue, so well is each character expressed – except it has more than usual point and style. Only the end disappoints. A series of slides turn the piece into a Health and Safety lecture, which is apt enough but far more limited than the lives, minds and hopes which have gone before.
Ol’ Mum: Heather Bleasdale.
Jane Byass: Milly Finch.
Carrie Sefton: Lindsay Fraser.
Dee Jessop: Tegen Hitchens.
Annie Castledine: Emily Houghton.
Nelly Johnson: Sarah Madigan.
Lil’ Ginny: Jill McAusland.
Nancy Longdon: Katherine Tozer.
Director: Alex McSweeney.
Designer: James Perkins.
Lighting: Gary Bowman.
Sound/Music: John Chambers.
Movement: Simon Pittman.
Assistant director: Alicia Bloundele.