Saturday, May 25

Shake The City – Jermyn Street Theatre

The 1970 unofficial strike by five thousand clothing factory workers in Leeds has been largely forgotten and tends to be ignored by historians and anyone outside the immediate area. At the time though, it had a massive impact in raising the issue of equal pay for equal work, eventually to be enshrined in law in the Equal Pay Act.  Millie Gaston’s Shake The City looks at the strike and its origins from the perspective of four of the factory workers, exploring the narrative through the lives of the women.  Margaret (Rachael Halliwell) has been promoted from the factory floor to supervise the workers, and at times uncomfortable position as she finds herself straddling the worlds of the workers and the management. Lori (Stephanie Hutchinson) is full of desire to fight for equality, while also desperate to earn enough to support her ailing mother and have enough money to send funds to their family in Jamaica.  Kitty Watson’s Wendy is a flighty young woman with little interest in politics, her only wish being to move to London and break into the music industry.  Heather (Emma Leah Golding) has won a place at Oxford University and in the minds of the other women has “escaped” though her time at Oxford proves not so easy for the Northerner.  As the four women talk in their nascent Women’s Liberation Movement meetings in the local pub, an idea to try to force the factory management to raise their pay is born and evolves, after setbacks, into the cross-factory strike of 1970. The women get a pay rise, but the men still, at that time, are given more. The wider issue of equality is also subtly referenced in the women’s treatment in the pub, with them initially being not entirely welcomed into what is seen as a male space.

The set is minimal with just a few tables and stools becoming the factory and the pub. Tailored jackets hung around the set indicate what the women are sewing.  It doesn’t need more.

With song, dance and audience participation, the talented cast are compelling and convincing in their characters and the feeling of the period is beautifully evoked. The characters do feel somewhat stereotypical – the middle-aged supervisor, the sexy young thing who falls pregnant, the clever blue-stocking who is able to leave because of educational opportunities, and the firebrand activist who risks everything to push for a strike. However, as Lori says, “Equality isn’t a moment” and Gaston’s piece is valuable in bringing the strikes, and the ongoing issues of equality, into sharp relief.

Shake The City runs at the Jermyn Street Theatre as part of the Footprints 2022 Festival until 18th July. Tickets are on sale from:

Reviewer: Carole Gordon

Reviewed: 13th July 2022

North West End UK Rating: ★★★