American play Sweat, about blue collar workers fighting for their livelihoods in Pennsylvania, has its roots in our own miners’ strike.
Lynn Nottage made multiple visits to Reading — officially one of America’s most impoverished districts — when researching her play.
But the dramatist, who won a Pulitzer prize for Sweat, which played at the Donmar and transfers to the Gielgud from June 7, told me the play’s genesis goes all the way back to the British miners’ strike.
Lynn Nottage made multiple visits to Reading — officially one of America’s most impoverished districts — when researching her play
She was an exchange student here in 1984 and travelled to Mansfield at the height of the dispute. ‘No one was working,’ she recalled. ‘I played snooker and went to the bar. It was interesting being there and seeing men not working. I saw it in a very visceral way and I like to think that some of it is embedded in Sweat.’
She stayed in a house close to a pit. ‘My staying there was a way of them making money, because, of course, I paid to stay.’
When I first saw Sweat at the Public Theater in New York I was struck by how easily it could have been set in any one of the UK’s industrial heartlands.
I had the same sense when I saw it again on Broadway; and even more so when it played the Donmar directed by Lynette Linton, with a cast that included Martha Plimpton, Clare Perkins and Leanne Best. ‘Mansfield bled into the work,’ Nottage agreed, saying it ‘is in the DNA of the piece’.
But the dramatist, who won a Pulitzer prize for Sweat, which played at the Donmar (pictured) and transfers to the Gielgud from June 7, told me the play’s genesis goes all the way back to the British miners’ strike
She said the play could be adapted for England. It has been done in Japan, is being translated into Spanish and French and she’s even been asked by an Iranian translator if it could be performed in Farsi.
The scorching work charts the disintegration of the characters played by the aforementioned actresses. They work at a steel mill where there’s talk of skilled workers being replaced by labourers from Latin America. There’s an almighty clash of class and race.
Nottage sets her play between 2000 and 2008. During her repeated trips to Reading, she chatted with the men and women who were in the process of losing their jobs.
There were Caucasians and African-Americans. Some of the white workers were surprised that she, a black woman, would be interested in their lives. But Nottage wanted to understand how they lived — and how they survived. ‘I have enormous empathy for all of the folks,’ she said.
Nottage, the Donmar and other producers have ensured there will be 350 seats per performance at the Gielgud for £25 or less
But their jobs are never coming back. ‘Coal is gone,’ she said. ‘Steel is gone.
‘What I don’t understand is why more people aren’t trying to figure out what the next iteration of the industrial revolution is — and where all the working people who are not necessarily educated are going to go.’
Some have become a form of walking dead, she said, hooked on opioids ‘because people need to numb the painand it’s not just physical pain. It’s psychological. The drugs are a form of escape.’
Donald Trump connected with those workers; Ukip has cornered them here. ‘Circumstances force them to do bad things. White panic is breeding something very dark and very ugly,’ Nottage said.
For all of that, Sweat is a beautiful piece of theatrical art; a play all must see.
Nottage, the Donmar and other producers have ensured there will be 350 seats per performance at the Gielgud for £25 or less.
We’ll hear more of Nottage next year when her Mlima’s Tale, the heartbreaking story of an elephant stalked by ivory poachers, runs at the Kiln Theatre, with Indhu Rubasingham directing.
Hayley shines in Scandi noir
Henrik Ibsen’s play Rosmersholm — about politics, extremism and sex — is still theatrical dynamite, 134 years after it was first staged.
When it had its official first night last week the production, directed by Ian Rickson, adapted by Duncan Macmillan and produced by Sonia Friedman, had little advance sale at the box office.
But since it opened, to rave notices, ticket sales have been building. I saw a ‘House Full’ sign outside the Duke of York’s Theatre the other evening.
On stage, Hayley Atwell as Rebecca West — a woman who refuses to be shut out of a man’s world — is unforgettable, as are the men who try to understand her
Meanwhile, on stage, Hayley Atwell as Rebecca West — a woman who refuses to be shut out of a man’s world — is unforgettable, as are the men who try to understand her. Tom Burke is Rosmer, a pastor who has lost his faith, and much more; Giles Terera, is his brother-in-law, family friend and political foe. Lucy Briers and Peter Wight are also sublime.
It’s such a cracking production I hope it continues to woo audiences at the Duke of York’s.
But it really needs to get on a boat (or a plane) and head to New York.
I can see it becoming a sensation there, especially as the U.S. is entering high political season, with so many female candidates insisting they be seen and heard. Just like Rebecca West.
Laurie Kynaston gave a brilliant performance at the Kiln Theatre as Nicolas, a teen caught in the middle of warring, divorced parents in Florian Zeller’s The Son (adapted by Christopher Hampton).
And he will stay with the play when it transfers to the Duke of York’s from August 24. Nicolas’s folks are so wrapped up in themselves, said Kynaston, that ‘they don’t see him spiralling out of control’.
He added: ‘The play’s a series of red flags’, all of which were discussed with mental health experts, who advised how a child of divorce would cope; or not.
Laurie Kynaston gave a brilliant performance at the Kiln Theatre as Nicolas, a teen caught in the middle of warring, divorced parents in Florian Zeller’s The Son (adapted by Christopher Hampton)