Saturday, May 31, 2014

Playing at it: The Pajama Game at the Shaftesbury Theatre

A musical based on a strike in a pajama factory where a manager falls in love with a union rep  sounds promising. Its first production in 1954 won countless awards and ran for three years.  'The Pajama Game' at The Shaftesbury Theatre has some excellent numbers, including ‘Hernando’s Hideaway’, ‘Hey there (you with the stars in your eyes) ’ and  ‘This is my Once a year day’. What  a shame the storyline doesn't live up to  the music.  Factory work isn't a game, at least not for the employees. 

Writer George Abbott based the script on a novel by Richard Bissell called 'Seven and a Half Cents'. The author says he was inspired by the warmth and liveliness of his family's factory in small-town Ohio, where he worked as a manager. The storyline follows the progress of an ambitious young man from Chicago, Sid Sorokin. Michael Xavier looks perfect as Sid, with something of a John Wayne manner and a strong voice. He’s also nifty on his feet, important in a show which excels in the choreography department. Joanna Riding as Babe, the feisty union leader, is suitably cheerful and flexible when it comes to dancing but her role is less convincing. There’s strong support from minor comic characters.

If the romance seems unlikely, the factory scenes have an undercurrent that works against the intended humour. The floor manager's efforts to speed up production with a stop-watch (‘Hurry Up!') as an opener,  robotic workers all flustered,  engage the audience from the start . However, the ‘Seven and a Half Cents’ number, where workers  imagine in turn what twenty years of the tiny pay rise could bring, mocks their aspirations and desire for consumer goods. The staging reduces them to cartoon-like figures. 

Richard Eyre’s direction is faultless and the songs are brilliantly staged. I can’t imagine a better production of the show. Arguably the theme has relevance, if only one of contrast  in an era where workers’ rights hardly exist, thanks to erosion of union powers. It’s a shame that real-life disputes aren't so simplistic, or settled so easily, as in ‘The Pajama Game’. 

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Cityreads Quiz at Manor House Library

Teams  representing library reading groups and a library staff team met at Manor House Library on Tuesday 20th May at 7.30pm. We were all set to be tested on our knowledge of Louisa Young's My Dear, I've been meaning to tell you... and, incidentally,  on our knowledge of WW1 battles and artists. Wines and light refreshment were much appreciated.

The novel is a harrowing account of a young man's experience of  recruitment, fighting and injury  in WW1. That's about as much as I can say without spoiling the plot,  but the background story  is an inter-class romance. That is all established before the young man joins up, but it's the part I found rather dull and not very credible. It's when the fighting starts that it picks up. The author's research into a relatively specialist aspect of the conflict is impressive but very well integrated into a dramatic narrative. 

We'd already discussed the book in the Lewisham Main Library reading group that meets at 10.30am on the first Saturday of every month and agreed it was a worthy choice for the annual contest.

We were : Chris (in the spotted top) Sarah, Shirley and me. Like me, Chris is an ex English teacher but she has more of a memory for details than I have, down to the name of the hospital where the hero was treated, which helped us score well on the section about the text. Shirley is an ex Art teacher so was particularly good at identifying artists and titles in the section where we had to identify paintings by artists of the time. Sarah, the youngster of the team - was good at anagrams of WW1 battles and at saying things like 'Just a minute. Is that the real answer? ',  as well as supplying plot details.  To my surprise, recent visits I've made to Belgium, where my son worked for a while,  came in useful because I recognised scrambled names of towns I'd visited but the others didn't know. 

At  half-time  another team was in the lead, but  I have to tell you, dear reader, that we won. 

On Saturday we'll be discussing another book with a similar theme - Erich Maria Remarque's  horrific  account of the Great War told from the point of view of a young German soldier: All Quiet on the Western Front.