Amid the thrum and whine of the sewing machines, dulcet tones float down from Elissa Michell, stationed high like an angel from an industrial scaffold. As if hypnotised by the sound, we meet Rae, Michelle (Chelley) and Mariam, beginning another day at the factory. This is the world of WORK SHOW: shrill, grinding repetition, and electrifying, nostalgic music. Stemming from Katherine Connolly’s own experiences working in a sewing factory, we encounter a vast range of Australian work place experiences, from the isolation of speaking a foreign language, the casual xenophobia of workplace chat, to the frustration of labouring for a cause you don’t believe in.
Mariam, played by Connolly, has a quiet acceptance of her situation that is not quite bitter, but wistful and lonely. Which is where the radio comes in. Bruce Woolley plays a disc jockey that is frenzied in his attention to traffic conditions, but also deeply tender as he articulates Mariam’s thoughts. Transcending physical distance to join Mariam on the factory floor, the host reminisces with her on days passed and love lost. It is a surreal relationship we all have with the voices on the radio – they are real people too, and whether or not they are genuine in their passion for what’s about to play next, they are a part of our lives, all day, every day. In WORK SHOW, this relationship blossoms in delightful ways. The host is both Mariam’s conspirator and her mentor, pushing her through the hours of repetitive work. It is a shame not to hear Mariam speak her thoughts herself, but their vicarious expression through the radio become its own soundtrack, dipping in and out of the factory routine.
Chelley, also played by Bruce Woolley, is similarly stoic, an ambassador of the ‘hard working Australia’. Louise O’Dwyer is delightfully dynamic as both Rae, a fiery and amusing factory worker, and Sara, the designer and owner. Sara is undoubtedly lost in the indulgent abyss of self-congratulatory business and buzz words. Ambitiously following in her footsteps is Bas, played energetically by Jalen Lyle-Holmes. Bas appears a younger, more idealistic replica of Sara, ready to climb the industry ladder.
Connolly’s skilled writing and Vanessa Chapple’s creative direction combine to show the sweet and the sour in each character, and the tender moments that we all have when we hear a certain song. Despite the confines of the factory floor, and the struggles of working class life, Chelley, Mariam and Rae all seem to find their freedom somewhere. And while Sara and Bas may be wrapped up in their bubble, the music on the radio remains a sweet relief.