Coatbridge. Not an area of Glasgow synonymous with theatre. But the National Theatre of Scotland have proved once again that they are truly a ‘theatre without walls’, an approach which has proved incredibly effective in bringing top quality theatre into Scotlands wider community.
Four main actors supported by a community cast and creative team of around three hundred strong bring this site specific piece to life. Set in the aptly chosen surroundings of Summerlee Industrial Museum, SHIFT (directed and written by Simon Sharkey) takes us on a journey through time seen through the eyes of a workforce. From the Industrial Revolution and the workers strikes resulting in better pay and working conditions all the way through to the age of technology which brings its own issues. It is the story of how work and the workforce shapes our communities and our lives.
From the gates of the museum we are guided down a path littered with old lockers, some lit up with colourful LED’s whilst voices telling stories eerily floated out of others, drawing us closer to listen. On arrival at the site we were given ‘clocking in’ cards, which was an enjoyable novelty and then ushered into a large performance space with high rise lighting structures and screens with the metal crane replicas adding a nice touch.
The show could do with being a touch snappier. The pace lags in quite a few places which you notice more because of the freezing temperatures. Which reminds me WRAP UP if you plan on attending! Microphones placed on four platforms at either end of the almost oval shaped stadium are used as confessional spots where the workforce voice their experiences and opinions. As much as I can appreciate non-actors being part of a performance, perhaps a little more time spent working on conviction and delivery with them could have made these moments more powerful and less like boring addresses during school assembly.
Visually the production is stunning and spectacular in nature. Moments of beautiful live music, smoke and flashing lights to large white globes turning from back breaking products of labour into a fun game in which the audience is included. A particular favourite moment of mine is a small dance portion where one of the ensemble grabbed my hand and I awkwardly attempted to ‘jig’ along with him which resulted in fits of giggles on my part.
The set design is simple yet effective and the moving platforms mean you are never stuck in the one spot whilst watching the performance. The cast are elegantly clad in smart, structured grey workers uniforms and they really do work as an ensemble, shifting us about and getting us to join in their antics. A funeral recreation after the collapse of a Pit brought me to tears but unfortunately the rest of the production riles little emotion in me. Go for the visuals, stay for the community spirit.
Written by @Lucy_Newbery