Donmar Warehouse, London – until 26 January 2019
If you want to understand why working-class Americans voted for Donald Trump or even why people in Sunderland voted for Brexit then look no further than Lynn Nottage’s complex, urgent and moving play new play, Sweat.
Set in Reading, Pennsylvania, officially dubbed the poorest city of its size in the US, this Pulitzer winner examines the alienation and disenfranchisement of the American working classes. The play is centred around Mike’s Bar – where complex socio-political ideas are served up alongside beers and shots, and a television set leaks out the emergence of George W Bush and the 2000 Chad election.
Tracey (Martha Plimpton) has been working “for as long as she could count money” in the local factory. Lifelong friends Cynthia (Clare Perkins) and Jessie (Leanne Best) share the graft and party hard, while crippled bartender Stan (Stuart McQuarrie) keeps the drinks and the wisdom flowing.
The central protagonist though is the factory – venerated and hated in equal measure – where you have to know someone or have family kudos to get through the door. In this world, work is generational and defining.
Tensions begin to emerge when African-American Cynthia gets promoted out of the shop floor and is compelled to sell the idea of a 60% pay cut to the workers. The play skilfully portrays how economic crisis heighten racial divisions – and we ponder if this was a skilful ruse from the management?
What Nottage’s shows us, so superbly, is how anger and divisions within the working class manifest towards racism, and fails to fully recognise the real villains – namely Machiavellian management and the blinkered politicians who “can’t see beyond the wipers on their windshields”.
In a terrific production from Lynette Linton in Frankie Bradshaw’s cleverly realised set, Sweat holds up a glass where we see the inmost part of contemporary America.
Sweat runs at the Donmar Warehouse until January 26.
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