These Shining Lives by Melanie Marnich - Warm, Absorbing and Uplifting
Hampton Hill Theatre - 10 October 2019
Melanie Marnich’s play These Shining Lives tells the true story of a group of women working for the Radium Dial Company in Ottawa, Illinois in the 1920s. The women painted the digits onto watch faces with radium that made the numbers glow in the dark. The jobs were popular as they paid well but the women neither knew, nor were they told, that the radium was a poison which would ultimately kill them. When they found out, eventually one of them took the company to court.
The subject of women coming together and taking action to improve the conditions in which they work has produced at least two other popular dramas that spring quickly to mind from the last 50 years or so – Bill Owen and Tony Russell’s The Matchgirls, and Richard Bean and David Arnold’s Made in Dagenham – but of the three These Shining Lives might be best described as the most straightforward. It simply tells a story effectively.
In keeping with the clarity of the piece, Park Players have staged an efficient production of These Shining Lives. In the main auditorium at Hampton Hill, the stage is gently divided into sections: the factory benches at which the women work, the central character’s home, and various offices for managers, doctors and solicitors as required. Details are changed during the interval but there is little fuss and this works well. (The lighting shifts accompanying the changes of focus on stage were a little ‘clunky’ on Wednesday night but this was almost certainly a case of first night issues).
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Photograph by Philip Hollis
Review by Eleanor Lewis