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Lynn Nottage’s ground-breaking play is based on the playwright’s interviews with numerous residents of Reading, Pennsylvania, which, at the time, was officially one of the poorest cities in America.
The result is a searing depiction of poverty at its most visceral, played out against a backdrop of racial tensions across rural America.
Now, following a sold-out run at the Donmar Warehouse, the Pulitzer Prize-winning, Olivier Award-nominated play has transferred to the West End’s Gielgud Theatre for a strictly limited run of just 50 performances.
Here’s everything you need to know about Sweat.
What is Sweat about?
Much of the action of Sweat plays out in a fictional bar in Reading, Pennsylvania, which exists in the shadow of the monolithic factory where most of the town’s inhabitants are employed.
Tracey and Cynthia have worked at the factory for over 20 years, but feel the cold grasp of redundancy looming over them – they spend their evenings getting wasted at the bar, either flirting with the bartender, Stan, or bemoaning the useless men in their lives (ex-husbands, waster boyfriends).
Their only hope for the future is their sons, best friends Jason and Chris. The boys also work the floor at the factory, but Jason is on track to head off to university and Chris is determined not to make the same mistakes as his mother.
Framing all of this are scenes set eight years in the future, in which Chris and Jason are both incarcerated for some unknown crime. As the boys come up for parole, the two timelines converge, revealing the devastating incident that resulted in their imprisonment, the downfall of their mothers’ friendship and the cycle of unending poverty that has engulfed their town.
Find out more about the play direct from cast members Osy Ikhule and Patrick Gibson:
Who stars in Sweat?
This incredible cast is led by Tony Award winner Martha Plimpton (The Goonies, The Good Wife, 200 Cigarettes) and Clare Perkins (Eastenders, Emilia, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time) as Tracey and Cynthia.
In supporting roles are the likes of Leanne Best as co-worker Jessie, Wil Johnson as Cynthia’s estranged husband Brucie and Stuart McQuarrie as bartender Stan.
However, the show really belongs to Osy Ikhile as Jason and Patrick Gibson as Chris – two young men who are blindsided by the undertones of hatred that fill their lives and their desire to change their circumstances, whatever the cost.
What can audiences expect from Sweat?
Sweat is a complex drama that plays with the concept of time. The non-linear structure cleverly keeps audiences guessing as to what has happened to these characters, who, in the future scenes are broken – profoundly changed versions of themselves in the present.
In those scenes, in their struggle to make ends meet and get by, all the characters appear likeable, affable and hard-working.
Tracey might be crass, Cynthia may get ideas above her station, but both women are endearingly committed to trying to make the best of their situation. Their sons, too, want to make a difference, and Jason appears to be close to a breakthrough scholarship to college.
And yet, Nottage’s cruel, brutally honest script reroutes these characters’ journeys, reminding them – and us – that escaping your destiny isn’t always that easy.
Lyneytte Linton’s stunning direction really captures the essence of middle America, with the diner-style dive bar the beating heart of the play.
Punctuated by video clips and news reels from the early ‘00s – including George W. Bush’s journey to the White House – there’s a sense of foreboding throughout, heightened by the knowledge of what his presidency meant for Blue Collar workers, and the occasional glimpses into the characters’ futures in later scenes.
What are the critics saying?
“A knock-out blow of theatrical force” ★★★★★ – Daily Telegraph
“The year’s most powerful play” ★★★★★ – Observer
“By turns profound, terrifying, earthy and witty, Lynette Linton’s superbly calibrated production excels from start to finish” ★★★★★ – Evening Standard
“Humane, heart-breaking and magnificent” ★★★★★ – Financial Times
What else do I need to know?
Sweat runs for approximately 2 hours and 20 minutes including a 15-minute interval.
You can see Sweat at the Gielgud Theatre until Saturday 20 July 2019. Get your tickets at Ticketmaster.co.uk