THE GUT GIRLS
by Sarah Daniels
Brockley Jack Studio 410 Brockley Road SE4 2DH To 29 March 2014.
Runs 2hr 20min One interval.
TICKETS: 0844 8700 887.
Review: William Russell 23 March.
A message that hits one in the gut.
Written in 1988, Sarah Daniels’ play is about the gut girls of Victorian Deptford, young women who worked in the local abattoirs gutting animal carcases imported from abroad. It was a harsh way of life and they were undoubtedly exploited by their male employers.
Into their lives comes Lady Helena, one of those upper class Victorian women with a bible in one hand and a mouthful of clichés, intent on doing good and saving them from their way of life, a sort of Annie Besant of Bryant and May and the match girls fame, but silly.
When the abattoirs are closed – the work is to be done at source – this bible-toting, well-intentioned creature sets about training them for a life of domestic service, a case of out of the frying pan into the fire if ever there was.
Daniels has written a clutch of good roles for the women, tough, outspoken, and up for anything their world throws at them, and the cast rises to the challenge brilliantly with a lot of hugely effective doubling of roles.
That Lady Helena comes across as preposterous is unfortunate because the person doing good who does harm should be fascinating. Daniels’ touch, so sure with the girls, falters with her and the various men – the bullying foreman, the husband, the gormless undesirable landlord and the rapacious aristocrat who thinks any working girl is his by right. The men seem characters from stock, symbols rather than flesh and blood.
It is a play of fragmentary scenes, not all of which work, and there is a falling off in act two, but Amy Gunn’s admirable production certainly hits home and while women are no longer – in many countries at least – quite so exploited, everything it has to say about male domination and female aspirations still holds good.
Polly/Eady: Billie Fulford-Brown.
Ellen/Priscilla: Beth Eyre.
Kate: Katherine Rodden.
Annie/Emily: Hannah Wood.
Lady Helena: Gemma Paget.
Harry/Arthur/Len/Mad Jacko: Luke Stevenson.
Jim/Edwin: Oliver Malam.
Director: Amy Gunn.
Designer: Rachel Ryan.
Lighting: Amy Mae.
Sound Mark Webber.
Movement: Jennifer Jackson.
Accent coach: Louise Jones.
Fight director: Ben Peterson.