Theatre review: Out of the Cage at Park Theatre

Milly Finch Jane Byass in Out of The Cage Production Photos.
Park 90, Park Theatre. Photo Credit :

Milly Finch Jane Byass in Out of The Cage Production Photos. Park 90, Park Theatre. Photo Credit : Richard Davenport - Credit: Richard Davenport

This may be a worthy tale of the women of World War I, but it doesn’t sit naturally on the stage, says David Winskill.

Munitionettes was the name given to the women who worked in appallingly dangerous conditions to produce the highly explosive shells which allowed their menfolk to participate in World War I.

To add insult to injury they were paid considerably less that the men they worked beside - considered temporary until the real workers returned home to take their rightful positions.

For the girls of Silvertown’s Shell Shop Number Two, this was deeply unsatisfactory and they resolved to strike for equal pay and conditions.

Writer director Alex McSweeney has clearly done his research. The dialogue is littered with cultural and political references, songs and themes. Eight talented and versatile actors play nine roles and if the first half is about the decision to blow the whistle to signal a mass strike, the second is a will-they-won’t-they join us drama – have we done the right thing, are the odds too high?

The series of duologues between characters articulating their doubts are choreographed to show the women becoming the machines they are working on – an effective device and much credit to movement director Simon Pitman.

But although all is played with skill and gusto. the dialogue is somewhat clunky, and fatally overloaded with political references as the play buckles under the weight of its ambitions.

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Characterisation is also poor, two perky Cockney Sparrers, a Fenian rebel-rouser, a patrician Lady from Up West, the consumptive, martyred Dee are ciphers rather than real people.

McSweeney’s play feels like a piece out of time, something funded by the GLC Women’s Committee, based on a production first seen in the Petrograd No 2Tractor Factory canteen in 1972.

Slides projected at the end told of explosions at Silvertown and other armament factories and the horrific deaths of women workers and civilians. The previous two hours should have evoked the emotions these visuals produced in two minutes.

An important memorial to the brave women who worked in these hell holes. Worthy, yes. Compelling theatre, no.

Rating: 3/5 stars

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