The Nuffield, Southampton Operatic Society, 24 June 2017
Last night I went to see the Pajama Game. First on stage in the 1950s, this shows tell the story of a group of workers seeking a pay rise in a factory. Into the mix are thrown a couple of love stories. One is between management and a grievance committee rep, another is between an aggressive-knife-throwing-jealous-control-freak and a worker, and the third is philandering husband who tries to get it on with every female co-worker.
While the songs, and lyrics, were fun (some extremely clever), and the bigger pieces great to watch, I couldn’t help but come away with bile in my throat. How is it possible that a serial philanderer works in the company, creeping over every woman, that and that anyone would go for him? Prez is a gross character and I have worked in enough places to know, for a fact, that within three days of being there you’ve been warned about which men to avoid being alone with, which men are predatory, which are creepy and which are uncomfortably odd. But, the Pajama Game clearly shows us that if creepy, touching men persevere they will eventually get to have sex. Gross. What kind of message is that for young men watching this show?
Then we’ve got Hines and Gladys. We know Hines is a control freak from his clock-watching, we know he is jealous of everyone Gladys speaks of (he tells us this), we know he has a knife-throwing act (we see it), we know he can’t handle his drink (we watch that too) and we know he is aggressive (as he throws knives in a temper at work) and yet still, with all this going on, smart, clever, fun Gladys goes back to him. And we also know, as we watch this in the course of the musical, that Hines is not going to break the cycle. So here, as an example to men, we have drunken, jealous, abuse which is forgiven. And as an example to women? Forgive, forgive, forgive. Yuck.
And then there’s Babe and Sid. The mis-matched lovers who fight about hourly wages, and then he fires her. She’s been after a pay-rise for a long time, everyone else in other factories has had one, it’s fair and just given the amount of business. But, it’s only when he checks the books and sees that there is a fiddle going on, that the rise comes into play. And then she snogs him, because even though he’s ignored her, fired her, ignored her some more, he’s solved a problem which wasn’t the one she was fighting. Grim.
The show’s set in a factory, where one of the first scenes shows us Sid shoving a sub-ordinate, and then telling people multiple times that he ‘shoved him’ as if this is acceptable behaviour, because there wasn’t a punch. This is the same factory which then doesn’t call the police to report Hines throwing knives at people in the office, as it’s ‘Hines’. Seriously? I worked in a company once where the boss threw a chair at a subordinate. The next week all the staff were out of there, not laughing it off.
Choices for production
I understand why people might chose to stage this – it’s a big cast, lots of moments for company singing and dances, roles for both sexes, suits the age-range of community societies, good songs and an element of fun. But seriously, people who make these decisions should take a step back and ask themselves what they are putting on stage. Is wife beating funny? Is sexual assault funny? Is misogyny funny? I suspect that this is the kind of clap-trap that Donald Trump and the far right grew up watching.
The audience all tittered away, except for one lady sat a few rows behind us. She commented the whole way through – that’s not funny, that’s gross, that’s horrid. Far braver than I, or perhaps unrestricted by the societal conventions that you shouldn’t speak during shows? The Emperor’s New Clothes springs to mind.
This show is definitely of its time, the dark ages, when the gate keepers were keen to tell the stories that kept the status quo. It’s book-ended with a comment about symbolism. ‘This show’s about symbolism.’ I’m not sure what the symbolism was, or why that was referenced as a great thing? I didn’t get that, as I was too busy wondering how damaging crap like this still keeps getting put on stage.
The production (even though this isn’t a review!)
And, a note about the production. It was great. Strong singing, solid acting (a few dodgy accents, but hey ho), fun, vibrant routines and an all-round feel-good evening that the cast and excellent band were having lots of fun. I’d definitely see when of their shows again, but hopefully not something so far from the dark ages.