james debate
james debate

Tuesday 16 April 2019

Directed by Lynette Linton
Written by Lynn Nottage
Starring Stuart McQuarrie, Martha Plimpton, Clare Perkins
Theatre Donmar

sweat donmar trump theatre 2019 pulitzer

This blog recently reviewed Shipwreck, and commented that it was a perfect example of how not to write political theatre. On the opposite end of the spectrum is Sweat.

Lynn Nottage's Pulitzer Prize winning play forms a timely and nuanced account of life among America's "forgotten people", in impoverished rust-belt country. Based on a series of extensive interviews with real life factory workers, Sweat gives us a stunningly real insight at economic displacement, the loss of blue collar jobs, and a fear of immigration and trade.

The production is wonderfully brought to life by director Lynette Linton. The set is atmospheric and the performances without fault. McQuarrie and Plimpton are utterly spellbinding.

So why does Sweat work so well? Ultimately the answer is that the story comes first, and is not merely a vehicle for a political lecture. This is a story that would be worth telling in any age, gripping in and of itself. The political viewpoint is neither agenda driven nor laid on too thick, just purely insightful, and all the more powerful for its honesty.

The characters are well written and feel like real people. They don't talk like caricatures or condescending mouthpieces for the author. The story that you see here rings true, and even if it is not strictly based on actual events it undoubtedly gets to the core of a very real situation. While the play wisely never mentions Trump by name, this tale nevertheless makes for essential viewing for anyone seeking to understand his appeal, or the desperation which has motivated many to buy into his rhetoric. That this play was written in 2015 only serves to make its words more prescient. It's rare that a play finds me speechless at final curtain, and I really can't recall the last time theatre has left me with such an impression.

I saw this production at the Donmar this spring, but Sweat will now transfer to the Gielgud starting June. For anyone who has not yet seen it, I can not recommend it highly enough.

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