Four women sit around a pub table in Harehill, Leeds, 1969. On the eve of a new decade they are rightly fed up with being the second class citizens of a man’s world. At first there are some nerves about them even being in the pub without a man accompanying them, but one short act later they arrive loud and proud, fighting for their rights in the Clothing Strike of 1970 – a true event that saw over 20,000 people marching to secure an extra shilling an hour for workers in the textiles factories, most of whom were women. Shake the City takes us through a few months in the lives of four women, all playing their part in this movement.
The personal experiences of these individual women flesh out the social history in the play, to make the impact a lot more vivid. As their friendships grow, their resolve strengthens, and the audience is swept along on the wave of the women’s liberation movement. Four tenacious actors danced, joked, drank and protested their way through the evening and kept us laughing with their northern charm. The foursome were a perfect complement to each other and deserve equal praise – Courtney George as the ferocious powerhouse Lori; Rachael Halliwell as the still fun mother-hen Margaret; Elizabeth Robin as Harehill’s answer to Lulu Wendy; and Emma Leah Golding as the empoweringly intelligent Heather. The only drawback I can think of is that there wasn’t a second half to allow their stories to expand even more, as some of the character development felt a bit rushed and jarring. I wanted to spend more time with all of them.
The creative team did a terrific job in transporting us back to the era, especially through designer Caitlin Mawhinney’s fab costumes and Joe Beighton’s excellent choice of music; particularly the songs sung by Robin, who was great to watch perform. Mawhinney’s set was clever and a bit unnerving: men’s suits hanging around the stage, served as a clever and constant reminder of the Big Brother-esque patriarchal factory board – always in the background, meaning that, even in lighter moments, the threat was still lurking.
Overall, it was a special experience that will appeal more if you’re socially-minded, but will be fun for anyone who likes strong female characters and 70’s music. The idea of protesting for a shilling might sound a bit trivial on paper, but it was so much more than that in reality and this production was an excellent way to feel it. It’s hard to miss the echoes of these four women today, as they express hope the gender pay gap will be gone after a few years (if only!) and call for racism, a lack of bodily autonomy and any other patriarchal rubbish to p*ss off as well. Chasms of inequality still plague us all, and Shake the City reminds us that it might just be you and your mates in the pub that make a difference.
Written by: Millie Gaston
Directed by: Amie Burns Walker
Produced by: Rachael Halliwell
Design by: Caitlin Mawhinney
Shake The City has completed its run at Greenwich Theatre. It will next play at Jermyn Street Theatre between 12 and 18 July. Further information on those dates can be found here.