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Sweat (Play Review) Sweat (Play Review)
Sweat (Play Review)

The North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) was supposed to benefit all Americans by the huge export potential of goods to Mexico. It also has sour consequences as the outsourcing of labour to Mexico led in part with increased automation to the collapse of huge industrial states like Pennsylvania.

 

This is the backdrop to Lynn Nottage’s play, in which the human and economic fallout of deindustrialisation are starkly and brutally brought to life.

 

Set in a downtown bar it tells the disintegration of the relationship between Cynthia (Clare Perkins) and her two very close factor shop floor friends Tracey (Martha Plimton) and Jessie (Leanne Best) brought about by the promotion of Cynthia to a managerial position.

 

There are accusations of tokenism and before long the ugly face of racism directed silently initially then voiced openly begins to be thrown directly at Cynthia. Prompting her to vigorously defend her position whilst trying to keep her jobless drug addicted partner Brucie (Wil Johnson) from dragging her further into misery.

 

Trying to make sense of the slow and painful demise of this once prosperous town are Chris (Osy Ikhile), Cynthia’s son who longs to get out the sinking ship by applying to become a teacher and future-less Jason (Patrick Gibson), Clare’s son with a raging red anger just waiting to be unleashed.

 

As times get harder and harder, the accomplished direction of Lynette Linton brings Nottage’s script to life. She slowly teases out through gestures, nuances and sighs the brewing tensions and prejudices come to the fore when economies begin to crash. Blacks are now pitted against whites, unions’ members against scabs, indigenes against the newly arrived Hispanic immigrants.

 

When bar waiter Oscar (Sebastian Viveros), breaks the picket line, Jason cannot contain his fury and launches an attack on him. The bloody and brutal melee results in long jail term for him and friend Chris.

 

Time and time again Nottage demonstrates her skill in chronicling the devastating effects of political and industrial expediency on the hearts and minds on those whose voice would otherwise have gone unheard and whose wrecked lives would have been forgotten.

 

The play has relevance to the current political and economic turmoil the UK is undergoing through Brexit as a consequence of the ‘working class’ voicing their opposition to immigration and the effect on their livelihood and social standing.

 

With outstanding support by Stuart McQurarrie as Stan the bar manager and Sule Rimi as Evan as the no-nonsense Welfare office, the pace is fast and the dialogue sharp. Some of the scenes were overlong and psychological effects of jobless especially in Brucie’s character would have added greater impact to the production.

 

Overall this brave and refreshing Pulitzer Prize winning drama is well timed. As the UK is undergoing crisis on three fronts, social, economic and political. Brexit like ‘Sweat’ is highlighting the calamitous ramifications of unfettered capitalism, mass deindustrialisation and the poverty and social misery it leaves in its wake on once rich and vibrant manufacturing towns all around Britain.

 

December 7-January 26, Donmar Warehouse, WC2H 9LX Tickets and info https://www.donmarwarehouse.com

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