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Working: A Musical at Bridewell Theatre

Planning for this production began, naturally, before the pandemic. But the pandemic has changed so much about working life that even the 2012 revised version of this 1977 musical (itself based on a book published in 1974) comes across as a historical work. Not that it is all ‘dated’ – there are still issues in society in 1970s America that remain issues in society today, and the content about key workers not being appreciated or compensated appropriately for the nature of work and the unsociable hours they do feels very relatable to the current state of play in the workplace.

Working: A Musical - Credit Stephen Russell.But it’s called Working for a reason, and it naturally follows that a recurring theme of wanting to do something other than the day job, if only circumstances would allow. “It’s me and my machine / For the rest of the morning / For the rest of the afternoon / And the rest of my life”, a factory worker laments, while others are just trying to find whatever fun they can in their employment. A UPS delivery driver has his ways of getting through the monotony of driving to a destination, handing over a parcel to someone, driving to another destination, and so on. Still others find worth in a job that some people look down on, such as a waitress who gets enthusiastic about her role. And why not? There are those who enjoy the interaction with people (and, of course, those who don’t).

There are so many different stories being told, however, that it is difficult not only to recall them all but to feel truly invested in any of them. In some cases, just as a storyline is really starting to get going, it gets going – that is, that part of the show is over, and onwards we go to the next character. Some names are given during the course of the evening, though as the programme doesn’t list any character names, I shall keep faith with it. Taken literally, the production seems to flit between the decades. There are mobile phones being used in the classroom (which a schoolteacher promptly puts a stop to), but elsewhere a fast food restaurant delivery driver still takes cash from all his customers, which allows him to sing a lyric or two about them rounding up their payment and telling him to keep the change.

The set proved rather clunky, with mobile staircases and other large props being wheeled around – they all clattered and rattled around the stage whenever in motion, which was far too distracting, especially when some spoken dialogue was being spoken over the noise. The costume department fared considerably better, with uniforms or otherwise entirely plausible attire for each work setting.

Being set in various states across America, thoughts of wanting to escape one’s present situation and move on to better things came across to me as an expression of the American Dream. For all the talk and singing (and a bit of dancing) about jobs and employment, it’s telling that the most engaging song was ‘Fathers and Sons’, in which a man takes a few moments to express regret at the sheer amount of time he has not spent with his relatives, for work-related reasons.

But as I started by saying, the world is different now, and with a considerable number of people on zero-hours contracts, the old adage about nobody wishing they spent more time at work is no longer universally true. The show needs another update, or otherwise revert to its original version, providing audiences with a snapshot of working life a generation ago. A hard-working cast does the best they can with what they are given.

3 Star Review

Review by Chris Omaweng

In 1974 Chicago radio broadcaster Studs Terkel published a best selling compilation of interviews with a cross-section of Americans talking about their jobs.

In 2007-2008 additional interviews were conducted. Terkel described it as ‘the extraordinary dreams of ordinary people’. Working is the musical adaptation of Terkel’s book, and the words of the people he interviewed. It was first conceived by Stephen Schwartz (Godspell, Pippin, Wicked) and staged on Broadway in 1978.

Working is a delightfully funny and thoroughly touching musical that explores what goes through the minds of everyday people – from construction workers and waitresses to firemen, secretaries and cleaning women. It showcases the individuals’ occupations and also laments their lost hopes and dreams – taking the average worker’s viewpoint and showing that he or she is anything but average.

Date/Time: 26 – 30 October @ 7.30pm. Sat matinee @ 2.30pm

Working: A Musical
Written by: Nina Faso, Stephen Schwartz and Gordon Greenberg
From the book by Studs Turkel
Directed by: Jacob Hajjar
Presented by: Sedos


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