Out of the Cage

Theatre, Off-West End
3 out of 5 stars

Time Out says

3 out of 5 stars

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Earnest if slightly eccentric drama about female munitions workers in World War 1.

This rousing play about female munitions workers fighting for equal pay during World War 1 is a nice companion piece to the rather fancier ‘Made in Dagenham’. ‘Out of the Cage’ also includes songs – arguably better songs – and some sharp movement sequences choreographed by Simon Pittman. But it’s an all together more earnest affair, with a lot of poetry flowering up the pragmatism. It’s an interesting but awkward mix that’s patchier in form than its single-minded politics would suggest. Nevertheless, it packs an emotional punch.

Writer and director Alex McSweeney shines a light on a group of women who, having taken on men’s jobs, feel they should be getting men’s wages. Inspired by the true story of the workers of Silvertown in east London, McSweeney tells the story of the girls of Shell Shop Two who decide to strike, under the beleaguered leadership of union organiser Jane Byass (a superb Milly Finch).

McSweeney’s text is too polished to appear realistic and at points, when the soliloquies are underscored by emotive music, it feels manipulative. The arguments that are voiced within this fractured resistance group – around feminism and socialism – feel a little forced.

The cast tackle their thin characters with varying degrees of success individually, but they have a lovely chemistry as an ensemble and they do feel like a sisterhood. For all its niggles and holes, this is an interesting frame in which to examine a familiar subject. Contrived or not, in a working world that still fails to remunerate the sexes equally, it’s moving to hear about the women who enabled us to get even this far.

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