Donmar Warehouse

SKELETON CREW at the Donmar Warehouse


“a subtle and quiet portrayal of people who feel real and vivid”

Not a lot happens in this play but that’s the crux of its genius. It elevates the everyday. It’s about everything and nothing.

Written in 2014 and first performed in New York in 2016, Skeleton Crew follows four workers in a car manufacturing plant in Detroit. A foreman and three floor workers. As their jobs are threatened, the quiet day to day of their lives unravel, with each facing the uncertainty of their future.

Watching the steady and inevitable disintegration of this department sounds bleak. Somehow, it’s not. The humanity and quiet kindness in these characters gives the audience hope. As the story slowly unfurls, it remains compelling and strangely optimistic.

Dominique Morrisseau’s script is tight. Each line oozes with character. Dancing between philosophy and banter, the dialogue snaps and sizzles. And she knows when to hold back. There’s power in what isn’t said. Matthew Xia leans into that silence in his direction. There are moments of stillness, of pause. Watching people get ready for work, alone, tells you so much about them.

Many of these moments are not silent, just without dialogue. Nicola T Chang’s carefully crafted sound design gives each character a soundtrack, quietly signalling whose story will be the focus of each scene. From Aretha to J Dilla, to the sound of the fridge whirring, this attention to detail makes the world, and the characters, feel more vibrant.

All of the performances are strong – especially from newcomer Branden Cook. However all eyes were glued to Pamela Nomvete in a remarkable performance as the jaded mother hen Faye.

Ultz was the show’s designer, and perhaps undelivered a little. The set was naturalistic – a break room – but each scene was intercut with the clanking of shadowy machinery, an illusion assisted by Ciarán Cunningham’s lighting design. There was a moment of pyrotechnics, which was exciting, but felt a little out of place. For a designer with such an impressive track record, this isn’t Ultz’s best work.

Don’t come to this show expecting surprising plot twists, or a fresh political take. But come for the beauty in a subtle and quiet portrayal of people who feel real and vivid.

SKELETON CREW at the Donmar Warehouse

Reviewed on 6th July 2024

by Auriol Reddaway

Photography by Helen Murray



Previously reviewed at this venue:

THE HUMAN BODY | ★★★ | February 2024



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