"Factory Floor Dialogues Need Work"
by Alison Goldie for remotegoat on 18/04/18

The Significant Other Festival has an unusual angle: in ten days, ten new ten-minute plays are written and rehearsed. The result of all this hectic activity for 2018 can now be seen at The Vaults, a venue which inspired the setting for all ten plays, a factory, where all the action takes place on one day in 1988. In the programme, director Neil J. Byden talks about his personal connection with a factory where his father worked, and a writer called Andy Curtis describes at length the decline of manufacturing in the U.K. and the political climate under Margaret Thatcher at the time of the action. It seemed that the evening would be a representation of the fall of a certain kind of workplace under a brutal government, filtered through the perspectives of a variety of individual workers.

Each of the ten plays features three main characters, and a floating cast of ten other actors pop in and out where necessary. There are four main sets onstage. In spite of all these people, and lots of set dressing and attempts at 80’s costume, very few of the playlets say anything about the political or social landscape outside the factory. Most of the content could have sprang from any era, being mainly concerned with who fancies whom. Play after play features flirting, girlish giggling, bitching (from both sexes) and complaining about hangovers. Two plays feature exactly the same problem of coming out as a gay man. Distinctions of hierarchy are woolly, with cleaners able to easily hobnob with the top knobs, and nobody seems to do any work at all, barring a painful scene in the packing room, where workers of such sloppiness would have been summarily fired in reality. Roles are not explained, jokes are threadbare, and there are very few characters you can get to know because they are onstage so briefly (this is sometimes a mercy). If you make the restriction of ten-minute vignettes, then the writing should be tightly controlled and say something pertinent to the overall theme. Instead, huge screes of it are meaningless fluff.

I may have missed it but I was never entirely sure what the factory produced: the name ‘Reseal’ was open to interpretation. The setting felt like it might be in the north of England, and Rochdale was mentioned in passing, but only two characters had northern accents – the rest were drawn from every part of the British Isles, but mainly London, not really a factory hub. There was an attempt to address racism, and a few instances of casual sexism that did illustrate how, in spite of the testimonies of #BlackLivesMatter and #MeToo, things have improved in the contemporary workplace, at least in a visible way. Class was barely addressed. Only one play, Coupling, was satisfying, with crisp witty dialogue and smart performances from Megan McKie-Smith and Nick Oliver. Certain recurring characters such as Stan (Tom Blyth) and especially Joyce (Jayne Edwards) were always welcome, but the overall standard of performance was very poor, something that could have been improved by more rehearsal time.

In short, the concept of Significant Other has here handicapped rather than encouraged the possibility of quality. It is very telling when the programme notes are more detailed, informative and interesting than the show itself.

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