It’s clear from the get-go that Below the Belt by Richard Dresser is just a bit odd. The play is set in a factory in an unspecified location referred to as simply ‘off-country’. The factory is surrounded by a barbed-wire fence which armed guards routinely patrol. Animals lurk outside, trying to get in, while inside, the men for whom factory-work has become a way of life wonder if they are secretly prisoners. The plot begins when Dobbit (Tom Golding) enters and disrupts life for factory-worker Hanrahan (Graham Dickson) and his boss, Merkin (Mike Wozniak).
Despite its peculiarity, the play is eminently believable. Much of the credit for this goes to the actors. Mike Wozniak as Merkin plays an insecure, paranoid boss so well one begins to despise him, just a little. Graham Dickson as Hanrahan perfectly embodies a neurotic, angry and discouraged worker, while Tom Golding combines just the right amount of naiveté and self-confidence to create Dobbitt.
The construction of the set, while sparse, also does much to help the audience envision the world. The set consists of four chairs, a desk, file boxes and some lamps. These objects are switched into varying positions to create the scenes of Hanrahan’s room, Merkin’s office and the outdoors. Despite the paucity of objects, these arrangements are highly successful. The use of lamps arranged close together to create the eyes of the creatures staring into the fence in particular is close to ingenious.
Perhaps the greatest credit for the show’s believability though goes to the script itself. Although peculiar, the more we fall into the world of the play, the more we see reflections of our own lives. Lines such as Hanrahan’s ‘the years fly by, it’s the days that drag’ may ring an unfortunate chord of resonance with more that one member of the audience, as might Dobbitt’s musings on whether he is a complicit prisoner in factory life. Below the Belt does what only the best dramas can: it sheds light on aspects of daily life of which we are normally unconscious. The show is serious and well-executed: consider if you are willing to run the risk that afterwards you may be extremely tempted to quit your job.