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Sweat @ The Gielgud Theatre (Play Review) Sweat @ The Gielgud Theatre (Play Review)
Sweat @ The Gielgud Theatre (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 had 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. Told in flashbacks, the play begins with the meeting after a lengthy jail term, of the two perpetrators of bar brawl that and the sequence of events that led to it.


The action then moves to a downtown bar where through time, we witness the disintegration of the relationship between Cynthia (Clare Perkins) and her two close factory shop floor co-workers, Tracey (Martha Plimton) and Jessie (Leanne Best). Brought about by the promotion of Cynthia to a managerial position as well as the impending closure of the factory that has provided their livelihood since their late teens.


With accusations of tokenism, its not before long the ugly face of racism, initially then voiced openly begins to be thrown directly at Cynthia. Prompting her to vigorously defend her position. Whilst at the same time trying to keep her drug addicted partner Brucie (Wil Johnson), made jobless through his staunch union activisim from dragging her into further misery.


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


Director Lynette Linton, intelligently brings Nottage’s script to life. She slowly teases out through gestures and nuances the brewing tensions and prejudices that eventually come to the fore when the local economy begins to crash. She cleverly highlights how Blacks are pitted against whites, unions’ members against scabs, indigenes against the settled Hispanic communities leading the audience to the inevitable violent climax.


When bar waiter Oscar (Sebastian Viveros), breaks the picket line, Jason cannot contain his fury and launches an attack on him aided and abetted by Chris. The bloody and brutal melee results in barman Stan (Stuart Macquarie), receiving life changing injuries resulting long jail term for the pair.


This play demonstrates Nottage ‘s 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 production 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 the barman and Sule Rimi as Evan as the no-nonsense Welfare office, the pace is fast and the dialogue sharp. However, some of the scenes were overlong and others could have been cut out all together as they added little to the narrative.


Additionally, further exploration of the psychological effects on a close community as it faces a devastating hopeless future would added greater impact to the production.


It has been said that Nottage allows drama to emerge through prisms of race, gender and class. She is passionate about making the political feel deeply personal and she allows her characters to explain themselves in ways that alternately attract and repel sympathies.


Overall this perceptive and compelling Pulitzer Prize winning drama is well timed. As the UK is undergoing crisis on three fronts, social, economic and political. ‘Sweat’ highlights the calamitous ramifications of unfettered capitalism, demise of w0rkers unions, stifling the peoples voice, mass deindustrialisation, etc and social misery they leaves in their wake. An intelligent watch and in its new home of the plusher Gielgud theatre, a great evening out.


Sweat, 7 June, Gielgud Theatre, London W1D 6AR   https://www.donmarwarehouse.com/production/7065/sweat-at-the-gielgud-theatre/ for tickets and details.


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