Preview: The Gut Girls
“Drinking, swearing and subverting societal expectations”- Robyn Strachan previews The Gut Girls.
Skulking in the stalls at the Bloomsbury Theatre during a dress rehearsal may not be the most orthodox way to see a play, yet it allows for an insight into just how much dedication the UCLU Drama Society have towards their productions. In The Gut Girls, a bleakly funny play written by the excellent Sarah Daniels, the society have committed themselves to a challenging and complex piece which should allow the obviously talented cast to explore notions of class and gender.
Set in the grimy slaughterhouses of Deptford in 1912, The Gut Girls places at its centre the relationship between five of the working class women who sift through offal for a living, ankle deep in blood. Whilst this may not sound like the most accessible play, it manages to be thought-provoking whilst maintaining a raucous and irreverent sense of humour. Drinking, swearing and subverting societal expectations, the Gut Girls dominate the Deptford society in which they live. Yet what will happen when the philanthropist Duchess of Albany, through Bible reading and sewing class, attempts to tame the girls, especially when circumstances conspire to force them to reject everything they know?
Director Louisa Sanfrey seems fully committed to this project; she has extensively researched living and working conditions in the Deptford slaughterhouses to ensure that The Gut Girls is as reflective of the period as possible. When asked as to why she chose to produce this play in particular, she replied that ‘it’s really funny – it’s a feminist play, but it’s also very funny so it’s not off-putting… usually, they do plays which are mostly male, with a couple of token women, and this year I was really conscious that I wanted to give the girls a chance.’ She pointed out that although there is a strong feminist undertone to the play, it is not an overwhelming one: the dress rehearsal supported this as the cast handled fairly maudlin themes with tact and grace.
Louisa also noted that ‘Drama Society have traditionally done much more serious plays’, which means that The Gut Girls provides an excellent opportunity to watch the society tackle comedy. The cast appear to have taken this in their stride, embracing some uproarious physical comedy and wordplay. The art direction appears to be atmospheric: it would be terrible to divulge in any detail the scenery and props used, but a copious use of latex certainly gives the slaughterhouse setting a fleshy disgustingness! It is evident how much thought and effort the Stage Crew have put into this production and the realism of the props stands testament to this.
Music can be incredibly evocative and a talented band helps to capture the atmosphere of working-class 1912, with its music halls and seedy pubs. Ashley Harvey, the music director, said that she wanted to reflect the black comedy of the play by ‘using different styles of music and altering the keys, as well as using existing songs to give a darker feel whilst still giving the audience something to recognise.’ The camaraderie between members of the cast is obvious – shown during their lively warm-up – and this should hopefully result in something which feels immediate and real.
However, the success of The Gut Girls will depend on the quality of the acting performances, which promise to be exceptionally strong. The five central characters, the titular Gut Girls themselves, appear to have a lovely dynamic and act as the centre of the play. The slaughterhouse foreman is played with an infectious sleaziness and evident talent by Daniel Rodgers (even if he was denounced as a ‘ginger t**t’ when he forgot one of his lines!), and like the rest of the male characters in the play acts as an unpleasant and pathetic foil to the infinitely stronger women.
If an absorbing and multi-faceted portrayal of a touching play sounds right up your street, I would urge you to seize the opportunity to see The Gut Girls. It is a play which examines themes of class, gender, sexual politics and violence yet (if the performances live up to the dress rehearsal) should avoid the twin pitfalls of being preachy and being saccharine, and should be a performance that stays in the mind long after the curtain falls.
The Gut Girls is being performed at The Bloomsbury Theatre, 21st – 23rd February at 7.30pm.
Tickets £10, £7 concessions, £5 UCL students
Photography by Tirion Jenkins