Review by Carly Fisher
Stories of the Suffragettes and their dedication to getting equal rights for women will never not be inspiring, especially whilst we still live in a world that unfortunately sees gender inequality prevail in so many facets of society, and in so many industries still.
Chopped Liver and Onions follows Sara Wesker in particular. A woman who, in the late 1920s, led the young Jewish women in London's clothing trade to strike for better conditions and equal pay. More than just a unionist, Wesker speaks of her interest in communism as well, but the focus of the show is undeniably on gender throughout.
Lottie Walker takes on the role of Wesker with clarity - sure of the history and of her character’s views, Walker seems comfortable in the role. Though personable, the story is not so gripping that one can afford to be polite in the telling of it and so I think a little bit more ‘oomph’ in her performance of a woman described as ‘feisty,’ would not have gone astray. That said, Walker is a strong actor with an ability to hold the audience for the 40 or so minute run time with her well grounded ability to story tell.
Joining Walker on stage is James Hall, Musical Director of the show, who accompanies the show with a gentle underscoring of some well known tunes that were adapted to be songs on the picket line and petition songs. For a show that positions itself as one built around the idea of these protest songs, I was left wanting more. Halls’ talent is undeniable and from even the small amount we hear from him in this show, there is a beautiful fluidity to his playing. In a further development of this show, I would certainly encourage the creative team to consider how music could be more included, noting that there is much that could come from the keys that could contribute to the establishment of the time (1920s) as well (not just the protest songs).
J.J. Leppink’s script is well paced for a historical drama and though I think it could use a bit more ‘action’ in it to really break the rhythm and find moments of heightened intensity, or drama, or concern, etc, it is a nicely written piece. It just needs a bit more power in it to really pack a punch. Similarly, Laura Killeen’s direction is well executed but it is a bit safe - I think that there is more than could be played with here to really take the play to the next level. But that’s for the next iteration. For this version of the show, the play serves its goals well - we, as the audience, leave knowing about the history of a woman who time has otherwise relegated to the shadows, and we hear the stories of the impact that she, and many others like her, made to the women that we get to be today. Major accomplishments for a 40 minute show in my opinion.
I hope that this team continues to progress this show more - there are some wonderful lines in the script that remind us of how unfair the perception of women is in comparison to men, even when they do the same jobs, or possess the same traits - a man is a leader, a woman is bossy, a man is a tailor, a woman is a seamstress, a man is a chef, a woman is a housewife, a man is strong, a woman is feisty, etc. The idea that “the world is changed by women who have been pushed too far” is one that has resonated with me since seeing the show and even as it was being said, had me reaching for a pen to quickly note down during the show…I love it!
Women like Sara Wesker have such amazing stories and I have so much respect for the creative team for recognising the importance in sharing them. I hope theatre, and the Arts at large, always take time to recognise the people who made the world better for being in it, for using their voice for the good of a community and for working to change attitudes.
With my own family’s history being in the clothing trade as well in Europe throughout the eras, I certainly was interested in this story and loved the little stories that resonated so closely with the ones I have grown up hearing in my own family. I think that this show was a really lovely piece to see and I hope one day it becomes as powerful as I feel that its creative team intends it to be - the bones are certainly there.
In the meantime though, for those that missed it, let me share what I think was the greatest take away from this show…”Don’t wait for an invitation to the table, demand your place at it and sit.”