The acting is up to the Phoenix’s usual high standard; the costumes are authentic for the time period and for the class of people being portrayed; the scene changes are efficiently done. So, if there is any weakness in Gut Girls, we must lay it at the feet of the playwright.
Sarah Daniels has written another play which demonstrates how women are victims, and here she rather belabours the point. At the end of two and a half hours I and my companion felt exhausted. I do prefer to see a play which challenges me to draw my own conclusions about injustice or inequality. At the Phoenix on opening night, it was as if the unfairness of life is a bit too heavily emphasized.
The five main characters are young women employed in the notorious meat sheds in Victorian London. They are rough and rude, and they stand up for themselves, not actually taking any guff from their male employers or supervisors. They are also quite well paid for the gruesome work they do. So they are independent and at some level quite happy.
Enter a lady of quality, a do-gooder who is appalled at the conditions under which these girls work. Her mistake is in trying to change the protagonists, instead of trying to better their working conditions. So she sets up a system to turn them onto housemaids, and the lack of success of this venture is spectacular.
Add to this the ‘gentleman’ who is a total lout in the way he treats his wife, and a Lord who might well be the same if he could persuade the lady in question into marriage, and you have a depressing play which puts itself squarely and loudly in the faces of the audience.
However, there is humour here, in the down-to-earth attitudes of the gut girls; since the topic is meat, some mileage is made from references to sausage skins. And there is compassion from unexpected sources. These are the redeeming features of this compelling, if lengthy production.
Well-directed in the theatre-in-the-round, the action is continuous; characters enter and exit via all the various spots surrounding the stage, with some quick changes of costume and/or mood – seamless and well-done.
Gut Girls is on until February 18. Call the box office, from noon to 8:00 pm at 250-721-8000.