Opening the first season at London’s brand spanking new North London performance space, the Park Theatre in Finsbury Park, is a new production of Melanie Marnich’s 2008 play, These Shining Lives.
Directed by Loveday Ingram, These Shining Lives is a story about the women workers of Westclox who were responsible for painting the glow-in-the-dark dials of the American company’s clocks and watches, It explores their new-found freedoms as independent wage-earners set against the background of a corporate cover-up which disguised the fact that part of their wages amounted to nothing less than danger money – the company knew that the toxic levels of radium they were being exposed to would almost certainly be fatal.
The ensemble cast of six features Honeysuckle Weeks (of Foyle’s War) in the role of brassy and outspoken Charlotte, with the central role of new girl Catherine being played by Charity Wakefield. She is paired Alex Newman who plays the part of doting husband Tom (Newman’s credits are as long as your arm, but you may know him from his regular role in Waterloo Road, and sci-fi fans will remember his fantastic performance as Paul Atreides in the Sci-Fi Channel’s adaptations of Dune and Children Of Dune).
The scenes in These Shining Lives (playing in the Park 200 auditorium which has the audience on three sides, both below and above) swing between the raucous banter of the girls at work and play, intimate moments between Catherine and Tom, harsh confrontations with the management and their final, and pyrrhic, victory against the ‘man’ (the real-life ruling in the case of the ‘Radium Girls’ brought serious health and safety considerations into the US workplace for the first time).
You might say that the performances in These Shining Lives are rather sentimental – they certainly lack the hard edges you find in contemporary kitchen sink dramas – but that quality gives them both an early twenties authenticity and a great deal of warmth. One can’t help but smile at Wakefield and Newman’s on-stage chemistry, which couldn’t be more convincing – the audience is left in no doubt at all that this committed couple will care for each other no matter what. Equally, the scenes between the girls as they start to sicken are also well-observed – once again, nothing in the writing or the direction detracts from the impression that these women will stand shoulder-to-shoulder, even in the face of the merciless corporate machine.
Given that the Park Theatre itself occupies an old industrial site and has post-industrial qualities all of its own (bare brick walls and exposed ductwork throughout) it’s rather appropriate that These Shining Lives is the first performance to take place on its main stage. I think its a wonderful play, as heartwarming as it is sad, and that you should go and see it while the theatre still has that new paint and carpet smell!
Being a new theatre, you won’t be surprised to learn that the Park Theatre is all over the social media channels – you can get updates from both Twitter and Facebook if you’re interested in learning more about what they’ll be up to over the coming months.