Shake the City

If we ever needed more proof as to why second wave or white feminism should no longer be considered relevant, here it is. Sitting somewhere between The Steamie and Six, Shake The City written by Millie Gaston is an intimate look into not only an overlooked moment in history, but Britain – the North. Centred around the cloth workers strikes in Leeds in the 1970s (which in the end appear as an afterthought), Shake The City is a story of female friendships spanning across generations and issues within feminism. Shake The City’s one saving grace is that it passes the Bechdel test but for a show about feminism and feminist movements, passing the Bechdel test is the bare minimum.

A solid attempt at political theatre that very depressingly indicates how little has changed since the 1970s

Firstly, we need to make one important distinction. Shake The City is not a musical, it is a play with songs. Songs in musical theater are required to move the plot forward. This is not the case with the songs in Shake The City, they exist both outside and inside the plot, but they do not move it forward. The songs are more like window dressing than anything else.

The show tries to tackle every issue under the sun; from those within feminism, to working-class struggles, and North-South rivalry and alienation embodied in Heather’s (Emma Leah Golding) move to Oxford. In this way it becomes an eclectic mess of two shows jammed into one, as we are taken back and forth between Leeds and Oxford for no other reason than to keep a character in the show. This lack of focus detracts from the main issue of working class women’s experiences and contributions to the feminist movement, which cheapens the issues that were name-dropped in every new scene. None of them was discussed or explored beyond their initial mention, which made the overall tone of the play more like a complaint than a genuine contribution to the discussion around the issues brought up.

This thin attempt at intersectionality by focusing on an example of working class women’s contributions to the feminist movement is undermined throughout the play, to the point of performativism. Firstly, again by Heather’s monologues about ongoings at Oxford that break up the action, and then by the other characters' responses and attitudes to Lori (Courtney George), a member of the Windrush generation who is treated as a nuisance rather than someone making a genuine point and going through extreme hardship. This is because the characters appear as harmful stereotypes, the most egregious examples being Lori – who comes over as angry and unreasonable, indicated by the reactions from other characters – and Heather (Elizabeth Robin) a character who is essentially the personification of the ‘dumb blonde’ stereotype. This had nothing to do with the talents of the cast; they adapted quickly to the varying stylistic demands of the show. The various arcs and resolutions also appear as an afterthought as the show switches between sacrificing plot and character for feminist commentary and vice versa. If anything, this show is proof that political commentary requires focus and a deft hand, which Shake The City lacks.

Everything about Shake The City feels juvenile and slapdash, like a high-school drama response to a stimulus. The show has potential, but needs to be refined. A solid attempt at political theatre that very depressingly indicates how little has changed since the 1970s.

Reviews by Katerina Partolina Schwartz

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The Blurb

Stand with the extraordinary women of Harehills, Leeds during the 1970 Clothworkers’ Strikes. Lori, Wendy, Margaret and Heather have set up their own makeshift Women’s Liberation Movement meetings to fight for equal pay. What will it take to make a stiff-necked factory listen? Be immersed in female friendship, empowerment, pain and triumphs, grit and wit, in this world premiere written 50 years on. Hear the women from the forgotten strike and a heartbeat of stomping Northern Soul floor fillers.

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