“There are more laughs than might be expected balanced with a poignancy that brought some of this audience close to tears”
Ardent Theatre Company presents the story, written by Tracy Ryan, of nine Irish shopgirls and one shop boy who after refusing to handle South African goods embark on nearly three years of strike action which culminates in a landmark ruling from the Irish parliament.
The set is effectively simple (Designer Libby Watson): a set of double doors in front of which a picket line will be formed for much of the action. The name of the Dublin store Dunnes is spelt out in coloured lights. A monochrome outline of what will become South Africa’s national flag is painted out on the floor.
The story starts within the store itself and a group of high-spirited shop girls are preparing to start work, changing their clothes into the regulation shop uniform. One of them, Mary Manning (Chloe O’Reilly) is about to change their lives forever when following an edict from their Union, she refuses to handle a South African grapefruit. She is duly suspended by the shop management and a walk out in solidarity from all the shopgirls ensues.
From time to time, a narrator tells us where we are. Karen (Jessica Regan) ably takes the brunt of this task but the role is nicely shared around other characters. There are two stories being told here. Firstly, that of the camaraderie and resilience of the striking shop-workers and then that of the bigger picture, the struggle against apartheid in South Africa. Amidst much light-heartedness, a dignity is provided with the arrival of Nimrod Sejake (Mensah Bediako), a South African exile of twenty years and former prison mate of Nelson Mandela. From him the shop-workers (and the audience) learn of the horrors of the apartheid regime and why the strike really matters.
As the story progresses, we learn small bits about each of the strikers in turn. Much amusing repartee forms around the effervescent Liz (Anne O’Riordan); Vonnie (Doireann May White) is in danger of losing her house; Tommy (Adam Isla O’Brien) is beaten up by the Garda in a brilliantly danced solo scene with effective blood red spotlighting (Lighting Designer Jamie Platt). Versatile Paul Carroll takes up the double roles of sleazy tie-fiddling shop manager Paul and Union Leader Brendan with just the change of a sweater and a restyling of his hair.
But this is predominantly an ensemble piece and the slick movement of the group, directed by Kirsty Patrick Ward, is excellent and the sharing of dialogue fluent. Small set pieces within the narrative provide dramatic variety. The ensemble don headscarves to become a group of angry mothers, sport plastic bags and umbrellas for a scene in the rain, sing a beautifully performed rendition of trade union folk classic Which Side Are You On?
There is much to be enjoyed here in a non-stop ninety minutes. There are more laughs than might be expected balanced with a poignancy that brought some of this audience close to tears. The tale is well-presented, brilliantly performed, and, at the same time, both genuinely moving and entertaining.
The new PARK90 season opens with the world premiere of a highly topical drama involving a scientific controversy, The View From Nowhere, presented by the same creative team behind the critically acclaimed Warehouse of Dreams at Lion and Unicorn Theatre. Written by Chuck Anderson and directed by Dan Phillips, The View From Nowhere stars Nina Toussaint-White, Mensah Bediako, Math Sams and Emma Mulkern.
Prez is a brilliant biochemist. His experiments show a leading herbicide is carcinogenic. He has an existential fight against entrenched interests on his hands – not helped by the fact that he dresses like David Bowie, and carries a chip on his shoulder as big as the sink estate he grew up on. In his heart he knows he’s right, but can he prove it?
The plot turns on the scientific fact that eight out of ten of us have minute traces of a potentially dangerous herbicide in our urine. This echoes concerns about glyphosate, an ingredient in Roundup, the leading weedkiller marketed by Monsanto, which is vital to worldwide food production. The European Commission is now considering scientific evidence on whether it is a carcinogenic agent. That decision is anticipated before the end of this year.
Nina Toussaint-White plays Rona. Best known for roles in EastEnders, Switch and Emmerdale, Nina’s stage credits include The Libertine (Theatre Royal Bath and Haymarket), The Etienne Sisters (Theatre Royal Stratford East – Nominated for Best Performance in a Musical at the UK Theatre Awards 2016) and Race (Hampstead Theatre). Other television credits include Gameface, Uncle, Holby City and Death in Paradise.
Mensah Bediako plays Prez. A veteran of the stage, his extensive theatre credits include The Bodyguard (UK tour), One Man Two Guvnors (National Theatre and UK tour), Fast Cuts and Snap Shots (West Yorkshire Playhouse), The Harder They Come (Barbican), Floyd Collins (Southwark Playhouse) and Tobias and the Angel (Young Vic). Television and film credits include Chasing Shadows, Mr Mzuza, Popular Unrest and The Real Kathy Hayden.
Emma Mulkern plays Sandy Jones. Theatre credits include Rough Music (Pint Sized Plays), Courting Drama (Theatre Renegade) and The Cause (ACS Random). Television credits include American Monster.
Math Sams plays Dr Tom Pennington. Theatre credits include Chimerica (Harold Pinter Theatre), Jane Eyre (Birmingham Old Rep), Being Nice (Derby Studio), Old Bag (Theatre 503), Do Worms Have Hearts? (Old Red Lion), Buried Child (Upstairs at the Gatehouse) and The Seagull (Cockpit). Television and film credits include Suicide Platoon, The Truth, Turbulence and For the Fallen
Writer and Producer Chuck Anderson has had his TV plays produced by CBS Television and MGM-TV, Hollywood. In the UK, he has authored fiction and non-fiction books. In 2014, his play, Warehouse of Dreams, about running a UNHCR camp for Syrian refugees, won enthusiastic reviews at the Lion and Unicorn Theatre.
Director Dan Phillips’ credits include the Welsh premiere of Hedwig and the Angry Inch, the new musical Something Something Lazarus at The King’s Head Theatre, The Lonely Walk Home in Manchester and April in Paris in Germany.
Set design is by May Jennifer Davies, Costume design is by Dan Street, Lighting design is by Chris Howells and the musical composer is Simon Arrowsmith.