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Mark Fisher
Edinburgh, Scotland, United Kingdom
Follow me @markffisher and @writeabouttheat I am an Edinburgh-based freelance journalist and critic specialising in theatre and the arts. Publications I write for include the Guardian, Scotland on Sunday and the Scotsman. I am the author of The Edinburgh Fringe Survival Guide: how to make your show a success, published in February 2012 and How to Write About Theatre: A Manual for Critics, Students and Bloggers published in July 2015. From 2000-2003, I was the editor of The List magazine, Glasgow and Edinburgh's arts and events guide. See my website for more information and comprehensive Scottish theatre links.
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Thursday, September 20, 2012

She Town/The Mill Lavvies, theatre review

Published in the Guardian

Dundee Rep
Three stars
IT'S all go in Sharman Macdonald's She Town. The Dundee mill-workers are angry because their wages are being cut; the choir is auditioning to accompany Paul Robeson, the singer and civil rights activist, at his concert in the city's Caird Hall; and the politically committed are preparing to go and fight the fascists in the Spanish civil war.


With a background of child mortality, teenage pregnancy and squalid living conditions, the play identifies a potentially revolutionary period in Dundee's history, not least since a major part of the workforce was female. Appropriately, director Jemima Levick has brought together 44 women in this professional/community collaboration and with striking results: they move about the stage in the shadow of Alex Lowde's towering tenement set, creating the impression of a city teeming with life.

A shame, then, that it comes across as so joyless a play. The women are always bickering (about what, it's often hard to say); but worse, they are downtrodden rather than fervent, their anger too easily cowed by reactionary ideology. When the mill-owner's wife accuses them of "politics borne of envy", adding, "that's no politics at all", they are oddly quick to agree. With so many people on stage and with such polemical material, you would expect something celebratory and defiant. This seems muted and humourless.

That's not a charge you could level at Chris Rattray's The Mill Lavvies, which has no political ambitions but offers much jolly banter as it follows the working day in a cloth factory from the perspective of the gents' loos. Set 30 years after She Town, when it's the Beatles who'll be playing the Caird Hall, it's a minor comedy made special by the songs of Michael Marra, given spirited performances by the six actors in Andrew Panton's good-hearted production.
© Mark Fisher, 2012
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