Review: LUTG’s The Gut Girls

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Photo Courtesy of The Lancaster University Theatre Group

Lancaster University Theatre Group’s third production of the Michaelmas term and one of two very women centric plays this term is an adaptation of The Gut Girls by Sarah Daniels. A historical play that managed to provoke strong drama and humour plus the most innovative use of condoms I’ve ever seen in a theatrical piece. Written in 1988, many of the plays central themes such as class divides, worker’s rights and above all, women’s rights were used as a reactionary piece to the Thatcherite government.

Set in the early 1900’s the play revolves around the workers of the gutting sheds, where offal was processed by hand by the female workers who were nicknamed ‘gut girls’. The aristocrat Lady Helena, a ‘toff’, aims to help these working class women by transforming them into respectable ‘ladies’ at her club, doing this unwittingly puts the gutting sheds in danger leading to the women’s redundancy. The best thing about this production was the eponymous Gut Girls themselves, every second the five of them shared stage time was very entertaining.

Each woman had their own personality and quirks making each character stand on their own two feet. The characterisations and the way they were portrayed never felt cheap or flat. They felt three dimensional and gave me the impression of a real gutting shed, the conversations they had and the way they were executed felt very genuine all while creating decent drama and a light comedic touch which is always welcome and a pleasure to watch.

The actors portraying The Gut Girls, did a great job, the chemistry they shared on stage made it accessible and enjoyable to watch, it was entertaining learning about each of their lives and their own personal views on their work, lives and even politics. From the five great performances two in particular stood out, I really enjoyed Liz Duggan’s portrayal as Ellen, the character was interesting enough already, a personification of the struggle for both workers and women’s rights.

However Duggan gives a gutsy (excuse the pun) performance, trying to convince the other women to unionise against the establishment, it’s a performance that almost immediately aligns the sympathies of the audience with the five women. The other character I particularly enjoyed was Polly, played by Sophie Goodman. Polly almost acts as the ‘joker’ of the group and Goodman’s timing and delivery was on point. It made for some for great comedic moments that helped alleviate the more serious elements in the drama and Goodman had me laughing out loud on several occasions.

The production design was very effective in Gut Girls, director Máire Robinson and stage manager Melissa Curd did a great job in fully utilising the space. The show was performed in The Gregson Centre’s main room which has a balcony above the performance space. They used the balcony to perform certain scenes which I feel really helped with the pacing of the drama, scenes flowed into each other smoothly and I felt there was never any interruption in momentum.

The Gregson Centre itself was a great choice to perform the play, when sitting in the large hall I found myself reflecting on a bye-gone age and an appropriate venue to host a period piece. I previously mentioned the innovative use of condoms, these were filled with what I’ve been told is strawberry jam and used as the offal in the gutting sheds. For multiple reasons the production team could not use real offal but the use of prophylactic stand-ins was a very inventive technique and gave me more admiration for the overall design.

During the show there were music interludes, some of these included songs from more recent eras such as songs from The Smiths. This may have been to reflect the anti-Thatcher political undertones that the play originally had but I must admit using anachronistic pop music felt like a misstep. I was enjoying being wrapped up in the time period, being engrossed in the historical drama so when I heard music that was from the 1980’s it was slightly jarring and not entirely welcome.

Ultimately, The Gut Girls is not an easy play to put on for a student theatre group and I commend the cast and crew for doing so. It’s nice to see student theatre having a social and political edge and LUTG’s adaptation of The Gut Girls demonstrated the political emphasis of Sarah Daniels reactionary play with skill and sophistication. What I saw was a respectable combination of performance and production design that made the show another fine entry into LUTG’s back catalogue of productions.