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Shake The City at Greenwich Theatre

The characters in this play call themselves the WLM – a quick Google search reveals it’s an acronym for We Love Music, Windows Live Messenger, or Weight Loss Management. But what these ladies mean is that they consider themselves part of the Women’s Liberation Movement. Dissatisfaction with their employer’s disparity in pay between its male and female workforce eventually leads to industrial action, without trade union involvement – the employees simply downed tools of their own accord. Not having union bigwigs take to the airwaves might have contributed to the near-total lack of media coverage (as this production’s narrative would have it). Indeed, the strike was in response to an agreement between the National Union of Tailors and Garment Workers (NUTGW) and the Clothing Manufacturers Federation, which tailors and garment workers themselves found unacceptable.

Shake The City - Photo by Meg Terzza.
Shake The City – Photo by Meg Terzza.

Millie Gaston’s script is at pains to point out at the outset that there “bits that are totally made up”. Fair enough: it is not reasonable to expect to know exactly what was said between people in private conversations, or what precise discussions – verbatim – they had in meetings to discuss ongoing strike action. One is almost inclined to wonder if the play might have benefited from a little more in the way of fantasy – the ending is almost anti-climactic. I venture to suggest it is also slightly bizarre, with a “together forever” message somewhat at odds with Wendy’s (Elizabeth Robin) plans to move down to London in pursuit of a different career path coming to fruition.

Margaret (Rachael Halliwell) is seen as the group’s de facto leader, though the production is keen to emphasise the Leeds strike of 1970 was very much a collective effort, and only lasted as long as the collective effort could be maintained. On one level, some of the jauntier scenes seem more than a little superfluous, and even at odds with the idea of Very Angry Women who want, as the show’s title suggests, to shake the city. I wouldn’t dispense with the music and dancing, though – they show the women as rounded people who are still capable of enjoying themselves in their spare time, and weren’t obsessively focused all day and all night on waging war against the establishment, to the detriment of everything else in life.

It is, as I have often said, better to leave the audience wanting more than to outlast one’s welcome, but this show really could have had more detail. By the time the protest placards come out in the musical Made in Dagenham, for instance, it’s the end of the first half. Here, the placards and signs appear in the show’s final scene. The production seems to rush through the entire timeline of the industrial action, and more aspects of the deliberations and decision-making processes as the strike went on could have been dramatized.

That said, it deserves credit for highlighting a strike not often talked about, and the overall message of camaraderie between ordinary people working towards a common goal is ultimately an encouraging one. It’s a relatable one, too: with so many people once again dissatisfied with leadership in business, politics and other spheres of influence, isn’t it time we simply looked to one another to achieve what the powers that be won’t or can’t?

3 Star Review

Review by Chris Omaweng

Based on the clothworkers strike in Leeds, 1970. Join the extraordinary Women of Harehills to celebrate their quirks, pain and triumphs and stand with them to Shake The City!

Lori, Wendy, Margaret and Heather have set up their own makeshift Women’s Liberation Movement meetings in the fight for equal pay. What will it take to make a stiff-necked factory listen? Written 50 years on from the forgotten strike, listen to the unheard voices of brilliant northern women and a heartbeat of Northern Soul music. From an exciting northern creative team and cast, Shake The City embodies female friendship, empowerment and grit. Be immersed into Leeds on the cusp of a shining new decade for the world premiere of Shake The City.

CAST
HEATHER – EMMA LEAH GOLDING
WENDY – ELIZABETH ROBIN
MARGARET – RACHAEL HALLIWELL
LORI – COURTNEY GEORGE

CREATIVES
WRITER – MILLIE GASTON
DIRECTOR – ROB ELLIS
SET AND COSTUME DESIGN – CAITLIN MAWHINNEY
LIGHTING DESIGN – ROS CHASE
SOUND DESIGN – HATTIE NORTH
PR – MATTHEW PARKER

26 April-28 April 2022
https://greenwichtheatre.org.uk/

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