The Bridewell Theatre is tucked away on a side street close to Blackfriars tube station. It’s home to Sedos, an amateur company, with the players staging productions alongside their regular jobs. Doubtful at learning this, I took my seat with expectations in check. But I need not have worried: it soon became clear that this was well beyond your usual amateur dramatic affair.
The show is based on a book of interviews by Studs Terkel, an American radio broadcaster, who spoke with a series of people about their everyday lives. He heard their histories, experiences and hopes and these stories have been put to music in an adaption by Nina Faso and Stephen Schwartz, with additional contributions by Gordon Greenberg.
Working: a musical boasts quality songs credited to top writers such as Stephen Schwartz and Lin-Manuel Miranda. In it we hear from all walks of life: from young to old; from high society to blue collar; from happily content to desperate and resigned; from immigrants tenderly caring for the care home elderly or working as nannies to the wealthy whilst their own children are left thousands of miles away. We see how the undoubting certainty of youth that wishes and plans might become reality. We meet a reminiscing retiree, desperately trying to look on the bright side of a now lonely life. All degrees in between are also here: fireman, waitress, truck driver, cleaner, factory worker, stone mason and so on.
Their words are candid, direct, and honest, allowing us to see into their heads and hearts. It makes you realise that everyone you encounter has an individual tale; something we often dismiss in the whirl of our own story. Doesn’t everyone deserve the recognition of a smile and a thank you?
The eight-strong cast are all exceptional, each taking on multiple individual roles and joining together for choruses. The staging and costume are sparse but effective, and this simplicity allows the focus to remain clearly on the actors. Occasionally the noise of moving props overshadows performances somewhat, but this is a minor distraction as the songs are strong and memorable. Kate Gledhill is particularly affecting, with a strong voice in all her roles but particularly in her portrayal of the housewife.
The final song ‘Something To Point To’ brings everyone together, proclaiming the importance of a sense of pride that comes from being able to say, ‘look at that, I made/did/built/cleaned that!’ It manifests the value of having something to show for your toil. This is a fitting end to the evening’s journey of emotions. Having seen and felt sadness, despair, joy, pride, regret, the audience leaves on a high note.
With a full West End treatment this musical could be an even more successful revival, but for now this simple version is only on until 30 October (including a Saturday matinee) so go grab a ticket!
From the book by: Studs Terkel
Adapted by: Stephen Schwartz & Nina Faso (with additional contributions by Gordon Greenberg)
Directed by: Jacob Hajjar
Movement Direction by: Tess Robinson
Musical Direction by: Will Gaines
Produced by: Laura Ellis
Working: A Musical plays at Bridewell Theatre until 30 October. Further information and booking via the below link.