Corporate greed, employees’ rights and watch dials: Radium Girls

Brock’s Department of Dramatic Arts never fails to choose a politically relevant and socially conscious play for their mainstage production, and this semester, that play was Radium Girls. With strong acting, an impressive stage design and a beautiful directorial vision, this performance truly wowed the opening night crowd on March 3.

“Tonight was fantastic,” said actor Adrian Marchesano (who plays Tom, and is a third year Dramatic Arts student) after the initial performance. “[There was] a huge turnout. Almost a full house which was great. It was our first time feeling the energy of everyone else in the room which always feels like something foreign until you get into it”.

Though some of these actors were nervous for their first night, it certainly didn’t show and they executed the performance with an experienced level of professionalism.

Radium Girls was written by D.W. Gregory and follows the true story of female factory workers in 1917. They work in a factory that makes watch dials containing the radioactive substance radium. Many of these women contract occupational diseases and they fight to get the compensation they deserve from their place of business.

The acting was commendable, as it was no easy task for the performers, after all the majority of the cast had to play three or four characters and particularly in the performances of Nikka Collison and Elena Milenkovski, and each character was intricately distinct from the others.

“The thing that I try to ask people to do is speak in their own voice — that the character comes through their personality and their self,” said Philip McKee, Director of the mainstage. “This is the medium to which the character comes as opposed to some kind of thing to overcome in pursuit of playing a character… I feel like people are doing great work and have come a long way in terms of developing the piece and their characters”.

What really stood out about this production is the overall design. The performance is done in the round (a 360 degree stage with audience members on every side) with smooth transitions that swiftly take the story to the factory, a courtroom or a home. The lighting was very sleek, playing with warm whites and cool whites including fluorescent fixtures for the factory sequences. It was refreshing to see a purple light come into the mix during a dream sequence as well. The costumes and props were well done also, and the white lighting brought out the colours of the otherwise drab clothes of the 1910s.

“The costumes place us in that first half of the twentieth century,” said McKee, “but I’m never really concerned with that historic specificity in the theatre because I don’t think at any point does an audience engage with a play as if it’s suddenly a manifestation of the real thing.

If you wanted to set a movie in the twenties, you actually have the opportunity to make an audience believe they are seeing the twenties but that isn’t possible in theatre. If anything, the attempt to achieve that illusion can be disenchanting for an audience because it doesn’t reflect what the real experience of watching a play is like.”

Beyond the design or the acting, this play holds a timely story of strong women standing their ground against brutal misogyny and sexism and employees fighting for rights against the interests of corporate greed.

“People are really enjoying the core or the heart because things like this are still happening and because we’re still fighting for the rights of women and the rights of employees from all different parts of the world,.” explained Michelle Mohammed (Irene, third year Dramatic Arts student)

“Especially when it comes to fighting for what is important to you, whether it’s something awful that has happened to you or if it’s something you are trying to achieve, never give up,” elaborated Rebecca Downing (Chorus, third year Dramatic Arts student). “You do have to keep going as much as people will tell you that’s impossible or that you need to quit or even that you should just settle where you are, refuse to settle.

Radium Girls will be presented on March 10 and 11 at 7:30 p.m., and on March 10 at 11:30 a.m.. Tickets can be purchased online or at the FirstOntario Performing Arts Centre at the cost of $18 for Adults, $15 for Students or Seniors and $10 for Groups.

-Luke Webster, Assistant Arts & Culture Editor 

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