Sweat, Donmar Warehouse review ★★★★★
Set in Reading, Pensylvannia, and grounded in over two years of local interviews, Lynn Nottage’s Pulitzer Prize-winning play Sweat (2015) masterfully tells a tragic story of de-industrialization. Churning up issues of race and class, and powerfully examining how they interact, Sweat is a formidably drawn and often painful portrait of working class America. Lynette Linton, who was recently appointed the Bush’s new Artistic Director, directs this UK premiere with a thoughtful and human touch, making for a moving, lucid, and poignant drama.
Moving between 2000 and 2008, Sweat recounts the after-effects of a tight-knit group of steel workers being locked out from one of the town’s long-established factories. As Cynthia (Clare Perkins) is promoted off the floor to management, tensions arise between her and lifelong friends and co-workers Jessie (Leanne Best) and Tracey (Martha Plimpton), only to be exacerbated by rumours of job loss and strike action. Astutely set in the local bar, social dynamics within the community are unearthed and divisions are drawn along class and racial lines.
With the steel factory looming in the background, designer Frankie Bradshaw creates a highly detailed, if not a bit too polished, bar that clatters with realism. Linton paces the play beautifully, allowing for moments of joy and laughter to cement the bonds between residents whose histories are bound up together. But she also points to the hypocrisy and complexity of the characters: white bartender Stan (Stuart McQuarrie) laments the lack of recognition factory workers receive as his Colombian-American barback Oscar (Sebastian Viveros) works tirelessly without acknowledgement.
Viveros’s Oscar is calm and pragmatic, even when facing hateful racism from Plimpton’s Tracey, whose ferocious temper, quick wit, and surprising tenderness are perfectly portrayed. Perkins as Cynthia is gutsy, ambitious and measured. The fight between the two trickles down into the next generation, and their sons Chris and Jason, both excellently acted by Osy Ikhile and Patrick Gibson, find themselves in the centre of the tragedy.
Nottage skillfully shows that the loss of hope that weighs down this town, and the rest of America, falls on the shoulders of the next generation. The television in the bar shows scenes of the 2000 election as well as George W. Bush’s 2008 speech about the economic crisis. But in Reading, Pennsylvania, at the very end of the rust belt, it’s hard to see how politicians reflect the community. Perhaps what’s most unsettling is the uncanny way Nottage’s Sweat forecasts the growing disaffection and despair of working class communities, and what that means for the state of the nation.
|What||West End transfer: Sweat, Gielgud Theatre|
|Where||Gielgud Theatre, 35 Shaftesbury Avenue, London, W1D 6AR | MAP|
|Nearest tube||Covent Garden (underground)|
07 Jun 19 – 20 Jul 19, 7:30 PM – 9:00 PM
|Website||Click here for more information and tickets|