The Great Divide at the Finborough Theatre
The Great Divide is a play that gives a voice to the 146 people killed in the infamous Triangle Shirtwaist factory fire of New York’s Lower East Side in 1911. This self-aware play is deliberately undefined, generic in its tale of Rosa (Hannah Genesius), a Russian and Jewish, young woman who lost her life that day. Little is known about many of these predominantly female and Jewish workers, because of the “great divide”, as the play’s ambiguous title puts it; it could refer to cultural, geographical and religious divisions, just a few of a host of factors that allowed the repression through unfair and unjust working conditions, which ultimately lead to the tragedy.
Rory McGregor’s production made good use of Finborough Theatre’s small and simple stage, with minimal props – predominantly just suitcases – and no set staging. The world premiere of Alix Sobler’s play instead relies on the versatile dialogue and intense performances of the five-person strong cast to create the bitterly sad atmosphere. Some of the most emotive displays of the actors’ skills came through the self-awareness aspect of the play, as they broke from the story and into the tormented narrators, with Emma King as Manya providing a particularly heart wrenching interlude. These sections, however, whilst clever, were often not effectively signified, leaving the audience one step behind the drama and thus dulling the effect.
This is a story based around a fantastic concept, but there are still aspects that needed practice. Many of the accents slip too readily, moving from an everyman vagueness that could be from “Russia, or Ukraine, or Poland, but let’s call it Russia” as intended, simply into confusion. Similarly, the repetitive drumming used to depict the driving of the machines, as well as the world they signify, should of been absorbing and trapping, but a lack of cohesion sadly lessened the ploy.
The Great Divide is a fantastic display of reviving those forgotten by history and allowing them to continue living. From its simple Yiddish-song opening until its close, it is engaging and evocative – it just needs a little more polish.
The Great Divide is at the Finborough Theatre from 4th until 20th September 2016, for more information or to book visit here.