Stars explained: * A production of no real merit with failings in all areas. ** A production showing evidence of not enough time or effort, or even talent, and which never breathes any real life into the piece – or a show lumbered with a terrible script. *** A good enjoyable show which might have some small flaws but has largely achieved what it set out to do.**** An excellent show which shows a great deal of work and stage craft with no noticeable or major flaws.***** A four star show which has found that extra bit of magic which lifts theatre to another plane.
Half stars fall between the ratings

hard working cast

Almost 100 members of Stage2 fill the stage in a hard hitting world premiere of Claire Dowie's new play

Hard Working Families


The  Crescent Theatre


WHEN I was growing up in the 1950s and 60s Claire Dowie’s new play would have been seen as a very dystopian view of a bleak future lying in wait for us.

Then the latch key kid was an object of pity with a working mum either finding sympathy as she bravely battled to keep the wolf from the door, or, despised as a materialistic madam putting holidays and possessions above bringing up her children.

Today though, yesterday’s view of dystopia is, sadly, the world we live in and in handbillthis world premiere production Dowie contrasts the two worlds of then and now through the lives of two families, their friends and the people around them.

There is Natalie, played with a lovely innocence by Violette Townsend-Sprigg and her stay-at-home mum, played in suitable comfortable, matronly fashion by Izzy Jones Rigby. A homely family living with grandad, played by Dan Nash, making an excellent fist of playing an old man, and bringing the past to life through the exploits of gran.

Tales of peace marches, women’s lib and that time of hope and dreams of utopia, the 60s when anything seemed possible. Then there were the 80s when the idea of greed is good and profit is all that matters took hold; then on to today where latch key kids have been commercialised with before and after clubs at schools and stay at home mums are regarded as scroungers contributing nothing to society.

Except being a full time mum is a full time job in Natalie’s mum’s eyes and she is happiest baking and cooking for her family – biscuits a speciality –  being there whenever she is needed.

On the other side we have Dennis, played with a sad air of a little boy lost by Amit Mevorach, and his mum played with cold emotion by Rosie Nibet. She is another single mum, and equally single minded but her focus is not family but work and Dennis is left, with generous funding of course, to fend for himself. Mum sees what little time she spends with her son as somehow superior to being there all the time – after all it is quality time, if anyone has worked out what that really means.

Natalie and Dennis’s friends are a microcosm of a polarised society; Natalie’s are far from rich, state educated, with a likely future as wage slaves while Dennis’s are wealthy, public school and with the connections for the best, most powerful jobs.

Around them we have Maya Bennett as an overworked, under-resourced A&E nurse, Aldora Lekegaj as a postman who finds her round has been doubled taking away the enjoyment and caring aspect of her job. Hana Ali is a banker who is finding helping people is not part of banking any more while Jacob Otomewo is a boss running a company and caring for his workers . . . until times get rough and its every boss for himself.

Then we have the politician, played with delicious smarminess by Emily Cremins, who tells us we are all in this together – now haven’t we heard that somewhere before. Perhaps George Orwell might have qualified it that some are in it rather deeper than others. She speaks with that glib meaningful sounding nothingness which is the hallmark of politicians.

When Dennis and Natalie become close friendClaire Dowies there is the inevitable clash of cultures with Dennis envious of the closeness of family and having a mum full time enjoyed by Natalie while she covets a life where every want from X-box to exotic holidays is there for the asking.

It is a clash which sees worker against bosses, with a few common scapegoats responsible for society’s ills of course, such as immigrants, benefit cheats and scroungers – real happy families v the Daily Mail stuff.

Birmingham born Claire Dowie who wrote Hard Working Families for Stage2

There are references to changing attitudes, the days of strikes at Leyland and in the car industry when the unions, in many eyes, went too far and had to be curbed, raising the interesting question of how far is too far, especially when set against the wealth and lifestyles of those seeing it as too far, or perhaps too close for comfort.

There is even a game show to win jobs with a gloriously camp host, Mr Showbiz, played wonderfully by Jack Deakin where contestants vie for jobs with the top prize, an establishment post going to a toff and the zero hours contract on minimum pay as a cleaner being all that is left for Natalie’s mum as she is pushed into work by Natalie who wants to be more like Dennis without realising the price she will  pay for that.

It is a job that leaves her too tired and with too little time to bake, get retrained or obtain qualifications, yet leaves her £1 a week better off.

We see the wealthy and their quest for latest, newest, most in, along with a clever video set of ads for things no one could possible need but would inevitable sell, such as anti-wrinkle cream for children.

Then there is a where are they now edition of the game show with Unlucky Brian who won a job at Woolworths, then worked at HMV and finally Blockbuster – how he missed jobs at Comet and MFI is a mystery!

It all comes to a head when the bubble bursts and P45s are handed out like sweeties and the job centre, run by a remarkably uncaring Meg Luesley, is swamped. Meg copes admirably with a couple of complex speeches incidentally.

And amid the chaos there is a hint of compromise as Dennis’s workersmum’s company fails while Natalie’s mum’s biscuits are the stuff of legend; we leave the pair, the biscuit maker and businesswoman, shaking hands one what appears to be a new venture,

As always Liz Light’s direction is a marvel. I suspect you could give her a cross city line timetable to stage and she would make it look interesting, if nothing else, using every inch of space on stage and around the auditorium.

As is usual with Stage2 there is a cast of thousands, or at least approaching 100, yet under Light’s direction, they move as one as a Greek chorus, or in ensemble pieces create a tableau of characters, everyone with a part to play, everyone with their own role, no one merely making up the numbers or cluttering up the stage.

Jack Deakin (left) as Mr Showbiz, Aldora Lekgegaj as the postman, Hana Ali as the banker and Jacob Otomewo as the boss

As a director you will always see things that were not quite right, it goes with the territory, but as an audience there were no errors to be seen. It was fast paced, not a cue appeared to be missed and it was full of youthful enthusiasm and life.

A mention too for the band, cleverly hidden behind a scrim, with Charlie Reilly on keys, Alex Earle on drums, Mark James on guitar – the trio also directed and filmed the adverts -  and George Mee on bass; they were superb with everything from Dylan’s The Times They Are A-changin’, to Pulp’s Common People, and Madonna’s Material Girl to Kaiser Chief’s The Angry Mob.

On a simple, effective set, this is a politically charged piece, and although it would hardly take a forensic psychologist to decide where Claire Dowie’s sympathies lie, this is not an evening of propaganda. She lays out extremes. A mother bringing up her child as a full time mother, or bringing up her child as a bread winner, winning lots of bread, which, of necessity with a high powered job, means replacing motherhood with materialism.

It is a world where everyone is expected to work but the division of spoils can hardly be seen as equal and where parenst work till five or later, while children finish school at three; a world, in Dowie's words, where looking after your own children is seen as skiving, yet looking after someone else's is work. Dowie gives examples, provides scenarios and what is a deceptively powerful piece and it is up to the audience to reach their own conclusions.

It’s a world premiere of Dowie’s work and Stage2's hard working cast have done it proud. To 16-01-16.

Roger Clarke


Home Reviews A-Z Reviews by affiliate