Sweat presented by the Tower Theatre Company
What Is It?
This is the Tower Theatre Company’s production of Lynn Nottage’s Pulitzer Prize-winning contemporary drama. Sweat has a production history going back to 2015, crossing over from Broadway to the Donmar Warehouse and, most recently, the West End’s Gielgud Theatre in 2019.
What Is It About?
The setting is the Rust Belt town of Reading, Pennsylvania in the years 2000 and 2008. Sweat explores the impact of changing political and economic conditions on a diverse group of steel factory workers. We see how de-industrialisation, waning trade union influence, and picket lines ruin friendships and lives, in the build-up to the Great Recession.
How Did It Make Me Feel?
Sweat makes you think. It’s like watching the train wreck that is the current state of the world unfold right before you, filtered through the eyes of the American industrial working class. The way the ‘haves’ pit the ‘have-nots’ against each other plays out in a way that is excruciatingly relevant to a 2020 London audience. It was written in the slightly less divisive era of 2014-2015, meaning that Nottage unintentionally ends up showing us the exact demographics and circumstances leading to the votes that brought about the Western leadership and policies of the last few years. This means that, outside our present context, it humanises those who were manipulated by the political class. Within our context, however, this makes for exceedingly uncomfortable viewing at times, now that racist and xenophobic views have a mandate. One may argue that those who wanted this mandate do need to experience this discomfort, through the empathy theatre nurtures.
The script deals with many of the dominant headlines of the last half-decade since it was written; it doesn’t give the audience enough credit at times, drawing out the obvious in parts. A contemporary audience knows this story well enough already, be it through the lens of fake news or otherwise. The ending, though moving, comes across as unnecessary. What makes the play a success is the humanity of the characters and the commitment of a shining cast. Isaiah Bobb-Semple as Chris shows us a young actor with a promising career ahead of him, and Matthew Vickers as bartender Stan—who is the heart of the play, holding everything together while keeping everyone’s secrets—represents the deterioration of the old-school world.
The Tower Theatre’s beautiful space and intimate thrust stage works exceedingly well for the production. The play is further brought to life with the attention to detail to the time period. For example, in 2000, one character plays with a yellow GameBoy Colour with a Pokémon Red cartridge in it, and if that isn’t evocative of the era I don’t know what is. (Amusingly, one character talks about finally being able to hang up her Carhartts. She should have held on to them and sold them to a modern-day hipster for a tidy sum.)
This may be a production with a more humble budget than those of Broadway and the West End, but this allows the team to give it more focus. It’s astonishing to consider that the entirety of the cast, creative team and production team is volunteer-run. With such high-quality offers in such a pleasant space, I would recommend visiting the Tower Theatre soon.
Sweat is playing at the Tower Theatre until Saturday 7th March 2020.