“You’re acting like a guy”
In some ways, These Shining Lives seems like something of an odd choice to open the Park Theatre, a new London theatre in Finsbury Park, as what it seems to do is just add another solid drama to an overcrowded marketplace. That’s not to deny the quality of this piece of theatre but rather a hope that the programming of this venue is able to carve its own niche. Melanie Marnich’s play retreads familiar ground in telling the story of the women working in a 1920s Chicago factory who painted luminous radium paint onto watch dials, licking their brushes as they went, not realising that they are poisoning themselves.
It is certainly acted in a most engaging fashion. Charity Wakefield – not on our stages often enough – is radiant as Kate who becomes the reluctant leader of the cause as it slowly becomes clear what is going on, fragile but capable of bright emotion and fierce determination, well accompanied by the bright Alec Newman as her husband. Nathalie Carrington reveals herself as a luminous performer as the wise-cracking Pearl, Honeysuckle Weeks shines as the seductive Charlotte and Melanie Bond has a certain glow as Frances.
But radioactive puns aside, there’s little of substance to hang the acting on – even with just four key characters, two of the women are poorly characterised and Marnich adds little of dramatic interest to the story as a whole. This is a tale that is appallingly fascinating – management’s lack of concern about the health of its employees versus its profit margin remains as true as it ever was – but the play brings nothing new to it, the dialogue pedestrian, the structure uninspired. Loveday Ingram’s production is solid and simple but one can’t help but wish that the Park had gone for a bolder opening gambit.