The Factory Girls

Millennium Forum Productions presents 'The Factory Girls' by Frank McGuinness.

Millennium Forum Productions presents 'The Factory Girls' by Frank McGuinness.

Millennium Forum Productions presents 'The Factory Girls' by Frank McGuinness.

Millennium Forum Productions presents 'The Factory Girls' by Frank McGuinness.

Millennium Forum Productions presents 'The Factory Girls' by Frank McGuinness.

Millennium Forum Productions presents 'The Factory Girls' by Frank McGuinness.

The Factory Girls, written by Frank McGuinness and directed by Catriona McLaughlin, tells the story of five women who, faced with the threat of redundancy, stage a lock-in, hoping to reclaim power from the men “upstairs”. As the audience is ushered into a disused factory in Derry/Londonderry City Centre, place becomes an appropriate frame for Frank McGuinness’s writing. Although set against the backdrop of the socio-economic conditions of the 1960’s The Factory Girls takes on a new contemporary relevance in this site-specific production by Millennium Forum.

Frank McGuiness’s writing seems all too familiar in our current economic condition with phrases like, “recession”, “voluntary redundancy” and “you want us to work more for cut wages” interjecting the text. The young Rosemary (Kerrie O’Sullivan) remembers how her mother’s era experienced high unemployment, many emigrating to foreign lands. Her words, “funny how these things go round in circles” hold a new resonance, as we find our economy in this predicament once again. Yet, as the action continues, it becomes obvious that this play is as much about women (and their men) in a small Donegal community, supporting, attacking, laughing and struggling with one another, as it is about economics.

The play is divided into two acts which McLaughlin has placed in two separate spaces. The first space is 'the women’s space', the factory floor. There is a real sense of the male hierarchy present in the factory: a top down model is envisaged, with one man in a sparse office upstairs and many females in a crowded space downstairs on the factory floor. The male manager, Rohan remains largely absent from the factory floor as he will only address the women inside his office. This is until the women refuse to meet him in his office, forcing him to enter the female space. There is a belief amongst the women that by being “on our ground”, they will somehow reclaim some aspect of power within the factory. McLaughlin’s simplistic spatial arrangement guarantees that the gendered spaces in the workplace are strongly felt, and it plays a key role in the struggle for power between genders in the play.

Yet, the staging of the first act proves somewhat problematic. Whilst the audience sits in traverse, much of the action is configured for the proscenium arch. McLaughlin may have wanted to create a sense of the claustrophobia of the women’s world with this intimate space. However, individual actors stand on the same spot for much of the act in front of the same audience members, making it not only impossible for these audience members to see said actors, but blocking the sightlines for much of the action that takes place elsewhere on stage.

The Factory GirlsThis problem is largely solved in the second act as the configuration changes. As the women fail to gain the power they so desperately crave, with the threat of redundancies and wage cuts high, they once again decide to take control of their situation spatially. As the act commences the audience moves into a second space, adjacent to the first. McLaughlin clearly established this previously offstage space as Rohan’s office, the male centre for power, in Act One. Thus, the women occupy this particular space in an attempt to cope with the helplessness of their present predicament; somehow believing that by occupying the space of the powerful, they will assume the status of the powerful. Yet, these women find themselves as hopeless in the face of the economic situation as Rohan himself does.

The shift in space is accompanied by a shift of pace and mood. There are a few brief, but beautiful moments of drunken playfulness amongst the cast, largely led by the charismatic Una (Stella McCusker). The outbursts of spontaneous song and dance along to the nostalgic soundtrack designed by Bertram Knappitsch are some of the high points of the production. It is in song and dance that the dynamism of the cast really becomes apparent, their ability to play is what they do best and prevents the production from becoming monotonous, as the women face a continuous series of dilemmas. In a play which is largely character driven and void of action, pacing is paramount and McLaughlin and her cast have perfected it. The play ends with the lock-in remaining unresolved, but leaving the audience with an altogether sombre awareness of what is to come.

In the empty, derelict space, Maree Kearns creates a set which sees the disused City Factory in Derry City Centre used once again, reclaiming the function of its former glory days, and filled by the voices of women. Yet, as the audience walks away leaving behind the sewing machines, spools and shirts that litter the space, they cannot help but realise that the show will end and the props will clear, and the place left empty again. McLaughlin’s production reminds us that behind the glamour that is City of Culture 2013, Derry still struggles as a city, and continues to remain unattractive to investors now as it did in the 1960’s. The Factory Girls speaks widely to the current Irish condition, but takes on a real local significance during this year of celebration; we hope that when the show ends in Derry/Londonderry 2013, the audiences won’t walk away too.

Lauren Graffin is a PHD student at the University of Ulster, having received her MA in Applied Drama from the University of Exeter.

  • Review
  • Theatre

The Factory Girls by Frank McGuinness

24 April - 1 June, 2013 (on tour)

Produced by Millennium Forum Productions
In City Factory, Derry

Directed by Caitriona McLaughlin

Set Design: Maree Kearns

With: Lucia McAnespie, Noelle Brown, Stella McCusker, Kerrie O’Sullivan, Cathleen Bradley, Sean Donegan and Howard Teale.


2013 Tour:

24-27 April - City Factory, Derry
29-30 April - Strule Arts Centre, Omagh
1-2 May - Pavillion Theatre, Dun Laoghaire
3-4 May - Lime Tree, Limerick
7 May - Riverside Theatre, Coleraine
8-9 May - Hawks Well Theatre, Sligo
10-11 May - The MAC, Belfast
13-14 May - An GrianĂ¡n, Letterkenny
15-18 May - Civic Theatre, Dublin
21-22 May - Town Hall Theatre, Galway
23 May - The Burnavon, Cookstown
24-25 May - The Marketplace, Armagh
27 May-1 June - Everyman Theatre, Cork