Paved with Gold and Ashes details the true events of the tragic fire that occurred in 1911 at the Triangle Shirtwaist factory, New York. It follows the lives of five teenage girls, all differing in age but united in their dreams that stretch beyond the factory walls. New York during this period (and to this day) was famous for its diversity and immigrants; a huge running theme throughout this production.
The storyline is, for obvious reasons, a harrowing one, but despite its tragic content the script (Julia Thurston) miraculously manages to squeeze moments of joy, hope, humour and relatability all into a one hour run-time. Arguably, the run-time is a drawback to the production, as the transition from learning the history behind each character to the tragic events at the factory happens very suddenly. In fairness, this is in keeping with how quickly and without warning the actual events would have occurred. However, it would be nice to see more of the dynamic and bonding between the girls before the fire takes place.
The way Paved with Gold and Ashes utilises sound is one of the most interesting aspects of the production. Very little backing track is used, save for the mindless droning of the factory sewing machines. Instead, any music and sound effects are provided entirely by the cast themselves. This is rather mesmerising to watch, particularly when you consider that the cast consists of only five actors. Therefore, making a well-rounded and compelling backing track whilst simultaneously acting is a highly impressive feat (at times actors literally swap from singing to acting and back again within mere seconds).
Use of the (admittedly small) space and stage is skillfully done. Each character makes full use of the space, at times coming uncomfortably face-to-face with the audience. Somehow, the cast manage to craft each new scene (e.g a bedroom, the factory floor, and the streets of Hollywood) using only clever staging and expressive characterisation from each actor.
Props are incredibly minimal yet extremely effective, consisting of only a few rickety, wooden chairs and scraps of white material; the imaginative script and sensitive acting allows the audience to do the rest of the work and visualise each scene in their own, unique ways. It’s also impressive considering the fact that we follow each character’s vivid backstory, following their secret hopes and dreams; all still with the minimal use of chairs and material.
Paved with Gold and Ashes is a masterfully crafted piece which allows a glimpse into the very real running themes of classism, racism, and sexism. It’s powerful in delivery, clear in intent, and has the potential to truly pack-a-punch.
Written by: Julia Thurston
Directed by: Maria Cristina Petitti, Warren Rusher & Stephen Smith
Produced by: Threedumb Theatre
Paved With Gold and Ashes played at Old Red Lion Theatre ahead of transferring to Edfringe, where it plays at Greenside @ Infirmary Street 14 – 26 August. Further information and bookings here.