by Lynn Nottage
The Donmar Warehouse, 41 Earlham Street, London W12H 9LX to 26 January 2019.
Mon-Sat 7.30pm Mat Thu & Sat 2.30pm.
Runs 2hr 25 mins One interval.
TICKETS: 020 3282 3808
Review: William Russell 21 December
A stunning and thought provoking play
Set in the Pennsylvania town of Reading in 2000 and then a few years later Lynne Nottage’s play, which won a Pulitzer prize, deals with the impact on a group of workers when one of the town’s major employers starts to move its operations to Mexico and tries to impose new contracts on those who remain. It also employs new labour on new terms. The workers rage at this betrayal by employers whom they had served for years, and their parents before them is understandable, but Nottage has given the economic case for disindustrialisation and its impact on people a human face. It is as relevant today as ever it was, and with the possible impact of Brexit on firms makes sobering and enthralling watching.
We meet Chris and Jason being interviewed by their probation officer. Chris is tattooed and rebellious, Jason has found religion. But it is not clear just what they were imprisoned for. Then we return to the bar where they drink and where their mothers Tracey, a tough no nonsense blonde, and Cynthia, a warm hearted coloured woman, also drink. It is presided over by the philosophical barman who knows, and panders to, his customers. There is a Mexican assistant, and Chris’s absentee and drunken father also visits. There are birthday celebrations, the two boys seem to have everything going for them. Then Cynthia gets the prized job of supervisor, much to Tracey’s irritation, the management closures start to take effect, there is a strike and things turn bitter and nasty. Race becomes an issue, friendships are ripped apart, and futures are ruined.
Martha Plimpton makes Tracey a completely compelling being, funny, hard drinking, sassy, ferociously independent, and conscious of her family association with the company for which she works. It is an outstanding performance, matched by that of Clare Perkins as Cynthia, who sees the job she gets as a supervisor a symbol of progress for someone of colour, but cannot grasp why her friends think she has betrayed them and become one of the management. It is the time of the great depression, of the impact of the North American Free Trade Agreement on towns like Reading. When the play opens it is wealthy, the work force is highly paid, and jobs seem to be for life for them as they were for their parents. Eleven years later Reading was the poorest city of its size in the United States.
Director Lynne Linton has kept the action moving, the playing is very good by the entire cast – naming names is always invidious – but the evening belongs, good though Claire Perkins is, to Martha Plimpton. As for the closing scenes, when we find why Chris and Jason had served those prison sentences, they are sobering and shocking. Sweat is the last play I will review in 2018 and it is arguably the finest, one that will live in the memory.
Evan: Sule Rimi.
Jason: Patrick Gibson.
Chris: Osy Ikhile.
Cynthia: Clare Perkins.
Stan: Stuart McQuarrie.
Tracey: Martha Plimpton.
Jessie: Leanne Best.
Oscar: Sebastian Viveros.
Bruce: Will Johnson.
Director: Lynette Linton.
Designer: Frankie Bradshaw.
Lighting Designer: Oliver Fenwick.
Sound Designer & Composer: George Dennis.
Movement Director: Polly Bennett.
Fight Director: Kate Waters.
Production Photography: Johan Persson.