Studs Terkel’s 1974 book entitled Working: People Talk About What They Do All Day and How They Feel About What They Do is on the reading list of many drama colleges.
Nina Faso and Stephen Schwartz (Wicked, Godspell) first made the character study -which provides a fascinating insight into the lives of normal working citizens of America through a series of interviews – into a musical in 1977. Although it received critical acclaim and a number of revivals in the US, the production at Southwark Playhouse marks its European premiere.
In setting the consultations to music, Schwartz’s masterstroke has resulted in a further humanization of the subjects, with them laying bare their souls for all to see. With additional interpretations from updated interviews, provided by Hamilton creator Lin-Manuel Miranda, musically this show is an absolute gem.
Creating a musical with no continuous narrative is always a bit of a gamble however, and the pace must be maintained to ensure you don’t lose your audience. The lack of connectivity of the characters within Working, somehow makes the piece feel all the more important, as it reflects the feeling of disconnection to society, which ordinary working class people often feel.
It also helps when the cast is absolutely top-notch and all of the leads within this production showcase an outstanding ability to switch from comedy to tragedy within seconds.
Liam Tamne shows his immense versatility; having the audience roaring with laughter one moment and in floods of tears the next. He is trusted to perform the two fabulous new songs by Lin-Manuel Miranda, with a hilarious rendition of “Delivery” and an utterly glorious duet with Siubhan Harrison called “A Very Good Day”, which is the musical highlight of the show.
Peter Polycarpou gives an acting masterclass with a tremendously touching depiction of a number of more senior members of society, while Gillian Bevan extracts every ounce of comedy from the book, particularly when portraying a long-suffering school teacher.
Jean Chan’s set design is a tribute to the fact that Southwark Playhouse is built on an old car manufacturing site–with grimy floor tiles and a dingy back office and the oily residue in the seams of all of the costumes by Gabriella Slade, further adds to the celebration of the London mechanics of yesteryear.
It also feels very apt that six young performers are being given their first bite at the professional cherry in this production; mixing a youthful wide-eyed ensemble with a seasoned cast of professionals is a nice touch and gives further depth to the message behind the show.