Work It Out

Eve Steele
HOME Manchester

Listing details and ticket info...

The cast of Work It Out Credit: Chris Payne
Dominic Coffey as Shaq and Raffie Julien as Rebecca Credit: Chris Payne
Eva Scott as Colette, Eithne Browne as Marie, Aaron McCusker as Rob, Eve Steele as Siobhan, Dominic Coffey as Shaq and Elizabeth Twells as Alice Credit: Chris Payne
The cast of Work It Out Credit: Chris Payne

The audience enters for Eve Steele's new play to see designer Katie Scott's brilliantly detailed and authentic recreation of an activities room in a civic centre, from the planked wooden floor and the slightly mottled paintwork on the walls and tiles on the ceiling to the broken blinds at the windows and the mismatched plastic chairs. That same level of detail comes through in the writing, the characterisations from a fine cast and Sarah Frankcom's direction.

On the surface, it looks very much like Richard Harris's Stepping Out—or in fact any of those plays where a group of incompetents gradually pull together to achieve something, such as Up 'N' Under or The Full Monty—but Steele's characters are not really there through choice.

Shy Colette (Eva Scott) has an eating disorder and wishes to lose weight, but isn't helped by the others bringing in cake. Rebecca (Raffie Julien), who is deaf, is only there to bring her nanna, but eventually joins in; her nanna is older, outspoken Irish woman Marie (Eithne Browne), a compulsive hoarder who is perhaps agoraphobic and who just wants to sit down and have a decent cup of tea. Shaq (Dominic Coffey) has a pronounced tick, which he hopes the exercise will improve, and he is battling the council to try to get a decent flat.

Writer Steele plays Siobhan, a recovering drug addict who turns up to the first few sessions late asking teacher Alice to lie on her form for the probation service to say she had been there for the whole class. Siobhan ends up in a relationship with Scottish Rob (Aaron McCusker), an ex-con and recovering alcoholic who occasionally shows he has a temper but is often the calming influence on the group.

Wrangling this mixed bag of people is Alice (Elizabeth Twells), who looks and sounds just like so many dance and exercise teachers I've come across, idealistic and with an enthusiasm that can be a little intimidating to those who aren't sure they want to be there in the first place.

This well-observed naturalism occasionally is broken by some fantasy sequences, indicated by the lighting becoming more colourful and the music more intense, and by monologues, in which some of the characters tell the audience their own backstory. While these are well written and performed, I'm not convinced that either is necessary, as they break up the action in the main plot and feel like they are spelling out things that are shown more interestingly through subtle clues in the main scenes. They also add time to an act that already feels a little long.

The interval closes with the bombshell that, just as they are all bonding as a group and coming to rely on these sessions, their funding may be cut, then opens after the interval with an act where nothing much happens for quite a long time. It ends with the triumph that we might expect from this type of story, but also a tragic event that turns the tables on the group so that the pupils end up supporting the teacher who has made such a difference to their lives. This works very well, but feels a little drawn-out.

Overall, this is a lovely piece filled with bags of humour and warmth that also humanises some of the most vulnerable people in our society who are often not portrayed particularly sympathetically by politicians and certain areas of the popular press. It may benefit from being tightened up in some areas, but it is still a well-written piece with some great performances that is well worth catching.

Reviewer: David Chadderton

*Some links, including Amazon,,, ATG Tickets, LOVEtheatre, BTG Tickets, Ticketmaster, LW Theatres and QuayTickets, are affiliate links for which BTG may earn a small fee at no extra cost to the purchaser.

Are you sure?