When you’re trying to help win a war, is it wrong to put yourself first? That’s the question asked in Out of the Cage, which looks at the women working in a London munitions factory during the First World War and how they were treated there.
Alex McSweeney’s play focuses on the female workers in the Silvertown factory, in 1916. Led by Jane (Milly Finch) the group of women may be very different from each other but they have one thing in common: wanting to be treated and paid equally to their male colleagues. To achieve this, the women propose to strike and stop work, refusing to produce shells for the war. The question is, are they being selfish or simply standing up for themselves?
Taking place in the intimate studio setting at the Park Theatre, the play’s minimal set and use of props focuses attention instead on the women themselves. One thing clear from the start is that the women come from a variety of different backgrounds and places. Little Ginnie (Jill McAusland) is young, hesitant, nervous and unsure at the start. Jane (Finch) is far more practical: a strong and fair authority figure who leads the women in their cause. There’s outspoken and brash Annie (Emily Houghton) and her friend Carrie (Lindsay Fraser) who is uncertain about the prospect of striking and doesn’t want to lose the job and the wages she didn’t have before the war. In contrast to the other characters, Nancy (Katherine Tozer) is a well-spoken upper-class figure whose accent and manner are very different from the other women.
In spite of their differences the characters share the belief that they should be paid and treated equally to the men for the work they do. It’s a reminder of a time when women could be paid less for doing the same job simply because of being women. The play also shows how the coming of war meant that for the first time ever, many were able to go out to work, earning money rather than relying on a man to provide.
The end of the play is an emotional and stark reminder of the sacrifices that women like Jane and her colleagues made for the war. A series of still images and projections tell the audience about just some of the accidents and explosions that killed and injured many workers in munitions factories during the war. It also reminds those watching of one consequence of women’s work in the factories: the fact that in February 1918, women aged over 30 were given the right to vote. As the text says, although women were far from being treated equally to men, change was beginning to happen.
“Some had been let OUT OF THE CAGE. Never to return”.
Review by Amanda Blake
Out Of The Cage by Alex McSweeney
We ain’t goin’ back, we’re movin’ on. We’re pullin’ the plug. These roarin’ machines’ll grind to a halt. We’re standin’ by our lathes. We’re makin’ our demands. Equal rights. Equal pay.
Inspired by the munition women of Silvertown, London during the First World War, Out Of The Cage tells the story of women’s courage, dignity and hope, fired in the crucible of war.
Early spring 1916, before the slaughter of the Somme, munitionettes all over London met in secret to decide the fate of thousands of fellow co-workers. Their choice was simple: stand up to the belligerent attitude of male workers and an intractable government or forever be seen as second-class citizens of the Empire.
Were they dangerous and disruptive elements undermining their country at a time of war, or inspiring visionaries of a better world prepared to fight for a fairer future?
Until 14th February 2015
Tue – Sat Evenings 19.45
Thu & Sat Matinees 15.15
Post Show Q&A with playwright and director Alex McSweeney and Cast Tuesday 27th January
Running Time 2 hours 5 minutes (15 minute interval)
Friday 23rd January 2015