Wednesday, 26 June 2019

REVIEW: Sweat at the Gielgud Theatre


Lynn Nottage's play Sweat arrives at the Gielgud for a limited season with a bucketful full of plaudits and awards /nominations. Her writing reflects the painstaking research and interviews with the people of Reading Pennsylvania USA, named in 2011 as the poorest city of its size in the nation and tells the story of a community torn apart by change around the year 2000 . It is easy to see why the story and its underlying messages appeal to such judges and major reviewers.

It deals with racial tensions and economic deprivation in the community largely from a working class point of view as friendships and families are torn apart by the local factory which has provided a lifetime of work to many in the city when it seeks to change the working conditions and pay of its workforce. It is easy to see the parallels with a divided U.K. whether the north/south divide or Brexit / no Brexit or left v right politics. The arguments are powerfully made but too often the speeches are like rebel rousing lecturers at a protest rally and get in the way of full character development. 

The main characters are Cynthia (Clare Perkins, fresh from her rebel rousing role in Emilia) and her son, Chris (Osy Ikhile) and Tracey (Martha Plimpton) and her son Jason (Patrick Gibson). Their relationships are tested when Cynthia after 28 years on the line is promoted to management and is instructed to lock out the workforce. They all give fine intense performances but it is hard to have sympathy for the situation they find themselves or their dependency on alcohol. My sympathies went to Stan (a very measured performance from Stuart McQuarrie ) who tries to keep the peace and protect his bar's interests and the relationship between his customers and with Oscar (Sebastian Capitan) who as one person says " Is just trying to make a dollar like you and me". They call for mutual respect and compromise, not violence and abuse. Occasionally the fast talking American accents mean we miss some of the words. 

The set is impressive. Another excellent design from Frankie Bradshaw(who recently designed excellent sets for Jerusalem at the Watermill and Napoli, Brooklyn at the Park) with a wonderfully realistic American bar scene set in the context of the factory that employs many of its customers. This is yet another play that uses a long low level background noise preshow which irritates rather than scene sets and uses projection to provide US context which is too limited and small to take in. The result is that the time shifts are not always easy to
follow and distract from what is being said at the beginning of each scene. 

The final scenes are dramatic and powerful and led to rousing applause from the small but enthusiastic audience. It's messaging about economic recession and racial and class tensions are clear but offer very little in the way of solutions and may not have the wider appeal to fill the Gielgud for all of the fifty performances without big discounts.

Review by Nick Wayne 

Rating: ★★★

Seat: Dress Circle | Price of Ticket: £65
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