Fringe Online 2021
This is the true story of the 1976-78 Grunwick Film Processing Factory Strike which challenged the way women and immigrants were treated in the workplace. Told through the eyes of activist Jayaben Desai we hear the story of how she saw the injustices in the East End of London factory, challenged the manager and then led the establishment of a trade union within the factory. It led to national prominence for the grievances she and her fellow workers faced. A filmed collage of performances from a run in London, this performance tells that tale of familiarity at a time when such experiences were both common and unjust, irrespective of the times in which you view it. We see the initial grievance of Desai, her interaction with her manager, and his refusal to change. She then takes up the cudgels with union backing after she has spent time on the picket line until, through politics leads to an end and a call to arms for us all.
The filming of the piece has some issues with regards to the quality that it shows but nevertheless this a performance which is very much worth the telling – and gets its point across even in this format. At times it does feel a tad dated but to be fair this is more a help than a hindrance as we are now talking about nearly 40 years ago.
It does display a structure and style that is agit prop and does tend to feel a tad “shouty” and lack some subtlety, but it has the authentic ring of 1970’s struggle, as it encapsulates the anger and the fortitude particularly of Desai herself.
Performances are good and given that both Medhavi Patel and Neil Gore guide us through quite a few characters in the telling of the tale, they do so with great effect. Gore switches between the manager and union official and both do a fair caricature of the opposition in their exclusive clubs. This is characterisation by broad brush strokes and subtlety is left to the music.
The music was what really won me over as it provided a break from the onslaught of propaganda but also reminded me that we were watching a clearly and obviously terrible example of prejudice and the trampling of basic rights of our citizenry.
I thought the set, though basic, was functional, the lighting, theatrical though struggling to give its effect in this medium – which is fine – and the costume, props and other theatre arts reminiscent of the times. It fit and it fit well.
This is a story but with twists and turns that sometimes are lost in some of the telling, but it is not meant to meander through the issues. It is meant to stand politically where it stands and ask you to judge it as such. It stands up well to comparison of other tellings of industrial disputes and whilst I may have hoped for more finesse in the script, it bowled me over in the telling of it.