Home » Reviews » Off West End » Waiting for Lefty, White Bear Theatre

Waiting for Lefty, White Bear Theatre

Clifford Odets

Directed by Christopher Emms
★★★★
Pros: A terrific script and a (mostly) excellent cast deliver an impassioned story which rings true.
Cons: Not all of the actors are believable.
Our Verdict: This is a very enjoyable play and the majority of the performances are of a very high standard.
Courtesy of 
Waiting for Lefty is a terrific political drama written in 1935 which tells the story of impoverished workers on strike through a series of vignettes. It was originally a show about the New York taxi strike in 1934 though it is not an historical account. As audience members we are invited to be part of the discussions and the hecklings of a trade union meeting. Waiting for Lefty revolutionised American theatre at the time and its relevance today really comes through in this performance. The script could quite easily have been written in recent times and the characters feel very fresh and modern.
The director made a wise choice in making Jordan Lee the first actor to appear on stage. Lee plays Harry Fatt, the trade union leader with enough charisma and truth to kick the show off on a high note. He communicates with the audience effectively, setting the stage for the vignettes which are to follow. First off is Joe, a wounded war veteran, who is afraid of being labelled a communist by the union leaders. His wife is struggling to feed and clothe their children while much of the furniture in their home has been repossessed. Dominic Morgan is very sweet as Joe and I felt genuinely sorry for him and his predicament. His performance is very truthful and he has a great energy with his wife Edna (played by Holly McClay). As the two argue, Joe declares that he is going to find Lefty Costello to start a new union without the negative influence of the rackateers.
Miller is a lab assistant who has been asked to work with dangerous poison gasses by her boss. She is beautifully played by Leila Sykes who creates a delicate, well-rounded character who won’t back down from her own moral standards. David Blackwell is perfect as her vampiric (not literally) boss and his small, detailed performance not only stole this scene but every other vignette he appears in. Blackwell is a very distinct talent who is leading man material all the way. He certainly wins the award for sheer watchability and his compelling stage presence won me over.
Another notable vignette focusses on Florence and her brother Irv. Florence, played by Kate Wyler, is fed up of her humdrum existence and she desires ‘something more out of life’. She is in love with Sid who has very little money and this worries Irv considerably. There is a lovely rapport between the two actors and we really see how difficult their lives have become. When her boyfriend Sid arrives, played by Paul Harnett, we see a different relationship under strain from the same economic difficulties.
The decision to set the vignettes in the modern day works a treat as the script feels very fresh and up to date. The various costumes suggest characters in different states of poverty and distress and there is a sense that this could take place anywhere and at any time. The stories of people being injured by machines in factories and the violence surrounding the strikes are truly heart-breaking and serve as a reminder of the difficulties faced by workers all around the world. Although this is mostly a really strong cast, my interest dipped and rose depending on who was involved in the vignette and the energy was not always at the right level. The lack of props, set or detailed lighting design added to the sense of deprivation and actually served to help the truth of the piece rather than hinder.
All in all, this is a very enjoyable production with exciting performances and a very real and raw story to tell. The White Bear knows how to pick good shows and this is certainly no exception. Bravo.
Please feel free to leave your thoughts and opinions in the comments section below!

Waiting for Lefty runs at The White Bear until 2nd March 2012.
Box Office: 0207 793 9193 or book online at

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