Sometimes the best theatre comes from the most deceptively simple stories.

In this case, ‘Sweat‘ tells the story of the loss of the American dream through the industrial decline and its ruinous effects on one small town as it pits a group of friends against big businesses forcing everyone to take sides whether they should or not. Lynn Nottage has written a firecracker which the new artistic director of the Bush theatre, Lynette Linton has perfectly brought to life at the Donmar.

Having never heard of the play, I was excited to watch it as to quote a friend of mine, “it’s one of those plays that, once you start reading, you can’t stop until you finish“, and how right he was.

The first thing that grabbed me was the way nearly 2 and a half hours went by without me remotely noticing. Linton created a whole world timeline that started in the present and always went back for the answers keeping the audience fully with her. With a majority of the action happening in one small town bar, we, like regular patrons, overhear a story of friendship tested, of love and marriage gone wrong, of dreams made and turned toxic, of giants defeated; emasculated and of strangers becoming enemies. I couldn’t help but notice how brilliantly thought out each detail of this world was, down to every song playing on the radio. But above all, Linton never let the proverbial energy ball drop, a gift I have seen her exercise before when she directed ‘Hashtag Lightie at the Arcola.

Linton also deserves credit for assembling a cracking firehouse of an ensemble of actors. Their nuanced, small-town American accents are flawless. Even when nothing was happening, something is happening. The use of the actors to transition each scene’s staging is also very deliberate as it keeps the story’s energy as well as the energy of the characters in a forever driving forward state so they enter every scene at a 10. They all blew my mind.

Clare Perkins (Cynthia) and Martha Plimpton (Tracey) in Sweat at the Donmar Warehouse directed by Lynette Linton, designed by Frankie Bradshaw. Photo Johan Persson

Sule Rimi (Black Earth Rising), as Parole officer Evan, tops and tails the action fantastically, acting as a catalyst for this story to unfold. He embodies so much in such a short space of time and really just shows some masterclass acting. Claire Perkins (Been So Long) as Cynthia goes through the best character transitions of the show in my opinion, having worked for and achieved her dreams, only to find that what she has had her eye on for nearly three decades, glittering in the ever distance, is not gold and is in fact a virus ready to claim victims.

However, the performance of the night belongs to Martha Plimpton as a hard nut, wise-cracking, no prisoners taking Tracey, whose words bring this burning house down on everyone’s heads. Every motion, breath, word, and look seems to have been crafted by a master as her character never has a word that goes unnoticed, a presence that does not change the scene she walks into. She is a brilliant and seasoned actor and it shows clearly on that stage.

It is a testament to how drawn in we are to the world that by the end I was shedding open tears for the fate of the American dream, especially as it played out in this show. Nottage’s words capture the essence of truth, simply and without embellishment, keeping the audience alert, amused, beguiled and blown away. This is a flawless, simple and perfect acorn of a show and my hats off to absolutely everyone involved.


Sweat runs at the Donmar Warehouse until the 26th January 2019. Find out more and book tickets here.