These Shining Lives

Many months ago on my daily commute through Finsbury Park station I noticed the beginnings of a renovation project on a decrepit, old building. The reason why I noticed it was because it had my favourite word on it: theatre. As a diehard local, it excited me no end that a slice of the arts world was coming to my doorstep.

I explored my passion for theatre with much support and funding from relatives by joining youth groups across the city, which changed my life. The idea that something similar is being created at such an accessible location, only 15 minutes from the centre of London, is phenomenal. To my knowledge, none of the local schools are private ones and many of these schoolchildren use Finsbury Park Station every day, so we can hope that they too, like me, will be drawn to a world that previously seemed impenetrable. Offering that opportunity to so many others is a commendable project.

The play itself, These Shining Lives directed by Loveday Ingram, however, was a little underwhelming. Based on a true story, the tale itself is an inspiration; four young women buck the 1920s stereotype of living to be housewives, to instead get a job.In Chicago, Illinois, Radium Dials is a watch-making company paying these women “easy money” at $8 a day to paint the numbers on the watch faces using radium, so that the displayed time shines in the dark. Charity Wakefield, as our brave heroine Catherine Donahue, takes those first valiant steps into the working world and revels in the enjoyment of her independence and newfound friendships.

Many of the problems Donahue incurs upon her foray into what was previously a man’s world are unfortunately no different to today. The threat her loving husband Tom, played by the charming Alec Newman, feels when she gets her first taste of success, the maternal guilt of not being the primary caregiver to her children, office politics and corporate bullying.

However, when Donahue and her colleagues slowly discover the effects of radium ingestion, their true colours shine through and their subsequent actions are a testament to the women’s liberation movement. Mainly narrated by Wakefield as Donahue, the play is touching but seems to lack a little reality, I felt more could have been made of the company’s corporate responsibility and the result is too predictable to get completely swept up into.

Supporting actress Honeysuckle Weeks was lovely in her rare glimpses of humanity as the otherwise brittle Charlotte. Lighting and backdrop of the stage, however, were incredible. The sky felt alive and the moving lake complete with reflections were enhanced perfectly by the musical choices. The creatives, Victor Craven, Tim Shortall and Rob Casey, truly transported you back to the twenties.

I have no doubt that Park Theatre will thrive. I only hope that it’s the first of many more theatres to come.

These Shining Lives is playing at Park Theatre until 9 June. For more information and tickets, see The Park Theatre website.