Image courtesy Tower Theatre
Cast and creatives
Evan : Peta Barker
Jason : Nick Edwards
Chris : Isaiah Bobb-Semple
Stan : Matthew Vickers
Oscar : Carlos Fain-Binda
Tracey : Julie Arrowsmith
Cynthia : Landé Belo
Jessie : Katie Smith
Brucie : Richard Bobb-Semple
Newsreaders : Anthony Davis, Nancy Pinthieve
It is the year 2000 in the Rust Belt town of Reading, Pennsylvania.
With pressure mounting on the local steel industry, a diverse group of fellow workers finds close friendships and family ties torn apart as lay-offs threaten and picket lines form.
Described by The Observer as "the year's most powerful play", Sweat earned a second Pulitzer Prize for its African-American author, Lynn Nottage, in 2017.
It will have a special resonance in the year that Donald Trump seeks re-election, and there are strong echoes of the aftermath of de-industrialisation in the UK.
Note: this production features strong language and occasional use of racial epithets which some viewers may find offensive.
First performed in 2015, Lynn Nottage's play, Sweat, only had it's UK premiere at the end of 2018 but impressed sufficiently to subsequently make a transfer to the Gielgud Theatre in 2019.
So this version from Tower Theatre provides you with another chance to catch this play if you didn't manage to see it during its recent West End runs.
And, if you need any more convincing of the value of this moving play, it won the 2017 Pulitzer Prize for Drama.
Apart from its West End and award-winning credentials, Sweat is an important play that focuses on the highly topical issue of the plight of workers faced with the effects of globalisation and the greed of employers who put profit and shareholder value before the well-being and livelihoods of their employees.
(From left) Peta Barker (Evan) and Isaiah Bobb-Semple (Chris) - photo by David Sprecher
The story here is told in flashbacks, but starts with a scene where a parole officer confronts two young men recently released from prison.
That means we have to wait almost to the end of the piece to discover how they came to be deprived of their liberty and how they are related to the other characters we meet along the way.
Though it's easy to jump to conclusions in the early scenes about the crime the two men committed, you're almost certainly bound to be wrong-footed - which might say as much about the society in which we live as anything else.
Chris and Jason are working class young men raised in Reading, Pennsylvania.
They and their families and friends all work on "the line" in the local mills.
Cast of Sweat at Tower Theatre - photo by David Sprecher
These are hard-working, hard-playing types who manage to fetch-up regularly at their favourite bar, presided over by the genial Stan, frequently get drunk but always manage to get into work on time the next day.
But tensions surface from several origins.
On one hand, the local employers are keen to reduce costs and are working to change workers' contracts and reduce wages - or, possibly, close down the factories altogether and transfer production to Mexico.
At the same time, friction arises in the relationships between three long-term friends - Tracey, Cynthia and Jessie - when they're presented with the possibility of promotion.
Most of the play is set in Stan's unglamorous bar (nicely designed by Wendy Parry) whose floor bears the scars of years of brisk traffic.
Ian Hoare ably directs, deflecting the possibility of issues arising from grating accents by sensibly keeping them relatively light and unobtrusive.
And he's aided by the admirable efforts of an adept and committed cast who do more than ample justice to the work, providing realistic authenticity that later on results in some moving and poignant scenes.
There are numerous well-rounded and intelligently delivered performances across the board.
Both Isaiah Bobb-Semple as Chris and Nick Edwards as Jason provide accomplished and well-defined interpretations of their characters and there's good work too from the trio of female friends - Julie Arrowsmith as Tracey, Landé Belo as Cynthia and Katie Smith as Jessie.
Matthew Vickers is also impressive in his depiction of barman Stan, both in terms of his amenable, low-key hospitality and, in the end, his unswerving determination to keep order in his hostelry.
And I also enjoyed Carlos Fain-Binda's subtly understated and unassuming Oscar who quietly cleans the bar (inventively removing chewing-gum from under the tables, for example) and who becomes the victim of anger, hostility and resentment.
The final revelatory scene, where the pieces of the dramatic jig-saw slot into place, lacked a little finesse, proving a touch less convincing than other elements in the production, though I suspect the scene will quickly improve and intensify as the run develops.
Lynn Nottage's play rightly highlights the harsh realities facing industrious working people, not only in the United States but right across the planet.
Though globalisation offers considerable benefits, it also embodies the brutally competitive twist to cast workers into the dismal reaches of unemployment or low wages, devastating lives in sometimes unexpected and unpredictable ways and causing conflict within communities.
Links and related content
ActDrop listing for Tower Theatre
Our show listing for Sweat
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