Skip to content

“Working” – Southwark Playhouse

July 5, 2017

(seen at the afternoon performance on 1st July 2017).

It has taken some 40 years for this concept musical based on Stud Terkel’s book of interviews (nice poster tribute in the set) with ordinary working Americans in 1974, to reach London. It’s been revised several times since its first outing in Chicago and short 1978 run on Broadway. The working environment has changed radically too, and yet this show still feels surprisingly contemporary.

Possibly, this was helped by director Luke Sheppard’s bright idea of employing six newly-graduated actors – Patrick Coulter, Nicola Espallardo, Izuka Hoyle, Luke Latchman, Huon Macley and Kerri Norville to act as a sort of chorus for the “old sweats” team Gillan Bevan, Dean Chisnall, Krysten Cummings, Siubhan Harrison, Peter Polycarpou and Liam Tamne who sing about their lives as construction workers, receptionists, flight attendants, truckers, publicists, project managers, delivery staff, teacher and housewife, among others.

Something of a meander, there’s no truly logical construct to the show beyond an expected opening hymn to work “All the Livelong Day” and a “next generation finish” with the wistful hope that everybody will have “Something to Point To” at the end.

Between the two, I’m not sure either that we actually learn anything new. Pretty much as you’d expect, office life is stressful (a few updates are most noticeable here, though little about the pace of life in the modern paper-shuffling factory), while manual labour is hard – sometimes satisfying – and those on the bottom rungs in manufacturing, food and delivery will do anything to break the monotony and hope for a tip.

Still, the cast each get chances to shine. Gillian Bevan gets the very best numbers, “Nobody Tells Me How” from the original score, and a still bitterly relevant commentary on modern teaching; plus the delightful “It’s An Art” celebrating the wonderful service vocation that is waitressing.

Newly re-located song “Brother Trucker” delivered by Dean Chisnall with energetic choreography by Fabian Aloise to show off the youngsters’ chorus is an equally effective set-piece.

Peter Polycarpou’s retired Joe is a stand-out, also as a steel-worker, with pride in his tool belt since the age of 18.

Equally, Siubhan Harrison’s achingly lost factory worker in beautiful song “Millwork” is worthwhile – she also gets to wrap those velvet vocals around a second number later – as does Krysten Cummings as she pours out her hopes in “Cleaning’ Women.”

It is noticeable that gender roles are very much of the period, with no cross-over at all. Whether allowing a woman to be a fire-fighter or a man a housewife would provide a new angle to the show or cause it to dissolve, I’m not sure, but I think I might just have appreciated some kind of attempt to address things, given that the show has been updated.

Still, it’s an interesting “slice of life” with few longeurs and plenty of interesting characters crammed into a 95 minute straight-through running time. The experienced actors are each a unique and original talent, while the newcomers may not yet shine individually, but clearly are gaining much from the experience. Notably their difficult moves were smooth, indicating just how far they must have come as the run nears its end.

There’s only a few days before all punch the clock for the last time. This is worth seeing before then.

4 stars.

Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: