Skeleton Crew ★★★★ Donmar Warehouse | Until August 24, 2024

It is 2008, and four workers in Detroit's auto industry are trying to manage their lives under the cloud of the factory's closure. In her almost 30 years on the line, feisty union rep, Faye, has seen it all. While she may be a no-nonsense survivor, she is also a soft-hearted mother figure, and despite their apparently adversarial roles, she is able to work with Supervisor, Reggie, with whom she has a personal connection. The latter takes inordinate pride in his status and humorously tries to assert control over the workforce by posting endless injunctions, but nevertheless he really cares about his co-workers. Rounding out this quartet are Shanita and Dez. Her plan is simple: follow the rules and work hard in order to hold onto the job that she loves. However, her out-of-wedlock pregnancy and determined optimism may betray a certain naïveté. On the other hand, street-smart Dez dreams of owning his own garage, and he may not be above cutting a few corners to achieve his ambition. Playwright Dominique Morisseau has a real gift for creating vivid and realistic characters, and she displays a sharp ear for dialogue. In the first act of Skeleton Crew, Morisseau does a fine job of introducing us to this foursome and their web of workplace and social relationships. While this set-up might seem slightly overly long, when the dramatic events of Act II come to the fore, it all works. As the formidable Faye, Pamela Nomvete, completely dominates the stage. It is a bravura performance, and Tobi Bamtefa is equally strong as the comic, yet not craven, Reggie who struggles to find his voice. As the coquettish, but not entirely confident, Shanita, Racheal Ofori establishes a nice chemistry in her flirtation with Branden Cook's brash and ambitious Dez. Both are totally credible in nicely nuanced performances. Morisseau has created a powerfully realistic work that honours working people struggling to subsist and to maintain their dignity in bitterly hostile social conditions, and Matthew Xia gets some strong performances from his cast. Skeleton Crew offers a despairing insight into the black underclass of contemporary America while celebrating the values of community and the powerful spirit of survival.

Rated: ★★★★

Reviewed by J.C.
Photo by Helen Murray

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