It shouldn’t be surprising that a play written in 1935 still resonates, the thirties were a time of post-war trauma and financial depression. The UK in the last decade has seen the affects of austerity, the move towards a gig economy and part time working that is not financially viable for many people as they rely on food banks and additional welfare support.
Clifford Odets Waiting for Lefty is a timeless look at surviving in society in the gig economy. The play is set in a meeting for cab drivers who are demanding better pay and conditions and will strike if their demands aren’t met. Updated to 2021 the use of zoom both provides the meeting room (as a union rep zoom has become the meeting room) and is the setting for the production, which breaks away into multiple vignettes.
This debut production from Two Line Productions is practicing what it preaches by paying its cast a London Living Wage and offering discounted tickets to union members. Phil Cheadle, who directs and stars alongside Lisa Caruccio Came, and each production has a Q&A about the issues.
It is a worthy play but the production doesn’t quite work. Some appear to be in modern dress, others appear as if they are in the 1930s and despite adequate direction from Cheadle including some interesting use of camera angles with actors based in different spaces that sense of being disjointed never goes away. The best scenes are with Carruccio Came and Cheadle as Edna and Joe, a warring couple going through poverty and repossession and the scenes with Florence and Sid (Mariah Gale and Rhys Rusbatch) because both scenes had actors interacting a room. The original stage directions has Florence arguing with her brother Irv (Charles Aitken) about her engagement but moving it to a discussion over video chat as Irv is on a break from his work on the phone felt like a great alternative.
There are some great performances throughout, such Philip Arditti’s Jewish doctor Dr Benjamin who experiences anti-Semitism, much to the horror of his superior Dr Barnes (John Moraitis) and leaves the medical industry to become a taxi driver, a scene that is oddly precedent to issues that would lead to a second world war just four years later. Rebecca Scroggs in two, traditionally male roles also is an engaging performer. The problem is that a play that demands a call to action, needs action and the lack of physical audience to give a sense of an active and at times hostile meeting (this could work as a semi-immersive piece for example) means that this production, despite its best intentions, doesn’t quite hit the mark in engagement. There is a panel discussion afterwards about current issues, which I had to miss and I am not sure this work needs it. The stimulation of debate after a play like this is natural, it just needs an audience to stimulate.
I hope with the gradual return of physical theatre this production finds a home, it is relevant, well produced and has a real understanding that this is a relevant play to be revived.
18 – 23 May 2021
Presented live online via Zoom
Tues – Sun, 8pm (doors from 7.15pm)
Tickets £22 per device, £11.50 for students, £5 for members of any union – with the code: UNION05.