At the heart of Frank McGuinness’ play about the fight for survival in a shirt factory in the recessionary 1980s is a question posed by tough nut worker, Ellen, played with passion by Fionula Linehan.
Ellen asks a union official why she is stuck working in the factory in the first place and wonders what he ever did to get her out of there. This is a class issue and it’s also about the tedium of meaningless work measured in terms of speed of output.
The workers are being asked to increase their production of shirts or they will lose their jobs. Competition from the Far East looms over them like a bad penny. Ellen, like her four female colleagues, is not a happy camper. She is the towering figure in this lengthy play that lacks plot, being more character-driven.
In terms of action driving the story forward, the only thing that happens is a lock-in in the boss’s office. However, this is more an excuse for slapstick comedy than a serious step in industrial action. There is much hilarity as the Cork-accented women settle in for the night, producing booze and getting tanked, rather than doing anything serious like discussing strategy.
The lock-in is really an excuse for confrontations between the women leading to something approaching personal insight. Ellen has suffered terrible loss and bears the scars.
She is told to stop blaming herself and that she owes the dead nothing. Vera (well played by George Hanover) is sick of her abusive husband on the phone trying to guilt trip her to come home and mind their sick children. She stands up for herself in feminist mode.
The boss of the factory, Rohan (Evan Lordan) comes across as mild and ineffectual. Even when he becomes angry, he is not convincing. Dominic Moore as the union negotiator, Bonner, is volatile and at odds with the women.
The play is ultimately anti-climactic. The only thing that really happens is that the women face their demons. The play, with its focus on job insecurity, has resonance for today and heralds the decline of the unions.
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