Reviews OWE & Fringe Published 20 May 2013

These Shining Lives

Park Theatre ⋄ 8th May - 9th June 2013

Corporate greed.

Stewart Pringle

Looking like the Donmar and smelling like a new car, London’s latest theatre is an impressive affair with a great thrust-formation main house and a slightly peculiar studio clad in bare plywood. The theatre’s designer hopes nobody will paint it. They will. There’s also a dog named Hazel, and obviously the dog’s on Twitter, where she presumably flirts awkwardly with the Finborough Ice Dragon. With a strong community focus and a decent bar, the Park shows every indication of being a strong addition to North London’s fringe theatre scene, but Melanie Marnich’s po-faced weepie These Shining Lives is merely an adequate way of opening it.

It’s a strange choice, in a way, almost wilfully unexciting but solidly put together and pinned down by a superb central performance by Charity Wakefield, who plays chirpy and intelligent Catherine Donohue, a young woman who lives to regret taking up a position at the Radium Dial Company. It’s the 1920’s, but Marnich has swapped out the glitz of Gatsby for the fungal glow of radium poisoning, in a story of corporate greed, tragic friendships and ruined lives. Wakefield is supported by the similarly impressive Honeysuckle Weeks, who plays the mouthy queen bee of Cathy’s close group of workmates.

The unforgiveable events of recent weeks, which have seen the garment factories of Dhaka’s Ashulia district lie dormant in shame, should give These Shining Lives real pertinence, but the play is oddly resistant. Though we’re given a stunning confrontation between Cathy’s husband (played with understated power by Alec Newman) and her supervisor from Radium Dials, the play evades any stronger political reading, and seems content to let the real villains off the hook entirely.

Marnich’s main problem is the familiarity of the scenario. The tale has been told before, many times, and even if it hadn’t, its logic is obvious and incontrovertible. From the moment the first worker dips her brush into the pot of radium dust, the conclusion and all the steps that lead to it fluoresce like steady, even footprints in the dark. The action is heavily front-loaded, which means the audience has plenty of time to fall for flawless Cathy and her friends, but also that it runs out of puff long before the end, leaving the inevitable courtroom scenes feeling rushed. Marnich has nothing really new or original to say, giving her play something of a TV movie feel, inconsequential despite the great consequence of its subject matter.

It’s been directed with care, however, as Loveday Ingram keeps the energy pumping and stretches her small cast to fill out Marnich’s large roll of characters. Marnich’s play has a tendency to tell rather than show, with long sections of narration that feel unnecessary, but Ingram ensures that the action never falters. Tim Shorthall’s design is a mixture of pleasant surprises, such as the glowing stars that twinkle suddenly through rafters, and awkward incongruities. The stage picture occasionally swims out of focus, with characters wavering in and out of their light or spotlights blinding sections of the audience, as if the production is gradually wearing in its box-fresh theatre.

Not the radiant success it could be, These Shining Lives is still a solid and well-constructed first showing for the Park, but hopefully their next in-house production, the premiere of Oliver Cotton’s Daytona, will show a little more nerve.

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Stewart Pringle

Writer of this and that and critic for here and there. Artistic director of the Old Red Lion Theatre.

These Shining Lives Show Info


Directed by Loveday Ingram

Written by Melanie Marnich

Cast includes Charity Wakefield, Alec Newman, Honeysuckle Weeks, David Calvitto, Melanie Bond and Nathalie Carrington

Link http://parktheatre.co.uk/

Running Time 1hr 45mins (no interval)

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