A play from 1935: what might you expect? A bit of sparkling Noel Coward perhaps? Well, you’d be well off the mark with that here. Waiting for Lefty by Clifford Odets is a political drama, written on the wrong side of the Great Depression and based in the USA. It deals with the lives of ordinary people who are being crushed by the social pressures insidiously imposed upon them, gradually diminishing their self-worth and humanity. The play considers the role of the union, and how coming together in solidarity is the only way to have any strength against behemoth industries and state gaslighting. More than that, it considers the role of the individual; their struggles and how to work together for an improved society.
From the start, the aesthetic of this show is captivating. The impeccable use of period music and video draws us quickly in to a space where we’re connected with the past, yet solidly in our present. It’s still staggering, however, the extent to which the issues of the past presented so clearly correspond with those of today in the UK, particularly as social vulnerabilities are starkly highlighted in this pandemic. Taxi drivers unable to earn a living wage, the expendability of healthcare workers, big business running hospitals, undernourished children, racism, gender inequality – these are all themes in the 2021 news on a daily basis. How do we as individuals feel about it, and what can we do together to make change?
The sharp cast of performers represent diverse genders, races and ages, which speaks to the intersectionality of the issues being addressed. This is not just a political rant, the characters we meet are very human, vulnerable individuals. As Florrie and Sid dance, they literally cling to each other, and the last remnants of their quality of life. Yet working class stories are balanced by others, such as that of Dr Benjamin, a professional heartbreakingly ejected from his hard-won position because of racism and nepotism. The message here? You don’t believe it’s happening until it happens to you. Individual integrity and strength is then the first step to change. Union leader Lefty may be the headline act, but it’s ultimately in the collective actions of society that justice will come.
The Zoom format works incredibly well for this production. Not only has director Phil Cheadle used a whole variety of camera angles to add interest and avoid those repetitive face-on headshots, but the choice of delivery really speaks to the egalitarian nature of the content. Filmed live from eight different locations, the cloud-based conferencing app allows Odet’s story of collaboration to connect an intersectional audience that could be anywhere in the world, manifesting great possibility and a global conversation. It’s not totally without its hiccups, but the liveness brings an extra urgency as the drama unfolds, especially in the final moments. It’s clear how this would be highly exhilarating in an onstage production.
The post-show discussion is a valuable investigation of the themes, and I would definitely recommend staying on for it. This evening brought together panellists Alex Andreou (actor and political commentator), James Farrar (ADCU General Sec) and Danisha Kazi (Positive Money) to discuss issues such as algorithmic social control, fairer banking systems, and the responsibilities of the individual in a consumerist society.
There’s so much to think about here, presented in an effective, entertaining format, but never ceasing to offer affirmation through the portrayal of human positivity. Don’t wait for Lefty – buy a ticket today!
Written by: Clifford Odets
Directed by: Phil Cheadle
Designed by: Simon Kenny
Sound Design by: Joss Holden-Rea
Technical by: East City Films
Associate Produced by: Tim Delap
Produced by: Two Lines Productions
Waiting For Lefty is playing each evening at 8pm until Sunday 23 May. The show is live via Zoom. Further information and booking details via the below link.