Review: Waiting for Lefty (Two Lines Productions, online)

Clifford Odets’s 1935 debut play comes to Zoom in a livestream from Two Lines Productions. It is also their debut show, directed by co-founder Phil Cheadle.

Waiting for Lefty is a mix of film, period piece, and modern technology. Framed by a union meeting in which cab drivers decide whether to strike, we eavesdrop on a nunber of vignettes about inequality, nepotism, and class.

As we meet the different people affected by forces around them, their stories assemble together in a wider picture of exploitation, disregard, and despair. From corporate bribery to union “rats”, we have modern examples to easily cite.

As an audience member, camera on, you become part of the union meeting in those scenes (although I suspect this is more effective in a stage production).

Waiting for Lefty

Joe, cab driver, and his wife Edna fight to keep their children healthy, fed and clothed. Miller, an ambitious lab technician, refuses to be bought as a company spy on dubious work. Drs Barnes and Benjamin discuss the push for profit over patient care.

This play is close to a century old, and yet the plight of poorer workers has slid back after a postwar boom. Therefore the stories in Waiting for Lefty, the rising up, the radicalism, seems completely relevant to now.

As the talk moves from cab driver pay to the plight of charity cases in hospital, a sense of injustice passes across the piece. The theme of keeping quiet in the face of commercial pressure fits across several of the vignettes.

The emphasis given to the voice of women is enhanced by gender-reversed casting of Miller and Agate (a worker blinded by industrial incompetence).

Waiting for Lefty

The performances across the board are top-notch and committed. Cheadle’s filming technique is sometimes a little jarring, switching perspective mid-scene, but it settles into a rhythm where the plot and characters can be fully appreciated.

Each performance has a Q&A with different participants – at this one we heard from political radical Alex Andreou, union leader James Farrar, and economist Danisha Kazi.

Topics discussed included the ‘dignity and humanity’ present in Odets’s work, and how the poorer workers still suffer through the pursuit of monetary gain. For Andreou, the main issue is why the gap between rich and poor has been allowed to grow since the late 1970s, and how big business now dominates the work of government.

Farrar makes a telling point about union radicalism: “if it’s not happening to you, it’s radical – if it is, it’s rational”. His focus is on delivery drivers under pressure, and on workers divided by the ability to work at home.

Waiting for Lefty

Women’s voices and the unwillingness of the state to step in at times of economic crisis lead Kazi to draw parallels with Roosevelt’s New Deal in the 1930s, at the time Waiting for Lefty was written.

She notes the increasing role of unions to protect their members financially, and the ideological change which is miles away from the creation of the postwar welfare stare.

Waiting for Lefty is designed by Simon Kenny, with sound by Joss Holden-Rea. The cast includes Two Lines co-founder Lisa Caruccio Came as Edna, Ian Redford as Harry, Mariah Gale as Florence, Philip Arditti as Dr Benjamin, Rebecca Scroggs as Miller/Agate, and Phil Cheadle as Joe.

You can watch the stream of Waiting for Lefty each night at 8pm until 23 May. Book your tickets here (£22). If you are a union member, a discounted rate is available.

Image credit: Zoe Leonard

LouReviews received complimentary access to review Waiting for Lefty.