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Fish factory is unlikely setting for gritty black comedy at The Churchill, Bromley

PUBLISHED: 07:00 27 September 2019

This is an exhilarating experience and a wonderful life affirming play, says the director. Picture: Tim Stubbings

This is an exhilarating experience and a wonderful life affirming play, says the director. Picture: Tim Stubbings

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A poignant Irish black comedy coming to Bromley was originally discovered just across the border in Kent.

Sharon Byrne's Gutted is an unsettling black comedy. Picture: Tim StubbingsSharon Byrne's Gutted is an unsettling black comedy. Picture: Tim Stubbings

Gutted, by playwright Sharon Byrne, was originally discovered by The Marlowe Theatre in Canterbury via its ROAR! writing programme.

The show sold out and was the highest-selling show at The Marlowe Studio two years ago.

Mark Everett is the former director at The Marlowe, and at the time, he said: "This is an exhilarating experience and a wonderful life affirming play."

This is a new production of Gutted, directed by Chris White and performed by Eleanor Byrne, Niamh Finlay and Sarah Hosford. It played at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival last year.

This is an exhilarating experience and a wonderful life affirming play, says the director. Picture: Tim StubbingsThis is an exhilarating experience and a wonderful life affirming play, says the director. Picture: Tim Stubbings

Sharon (Charlie's Wake, Finborough Theatre) draws on her Dublin upbringing to present the lives of three strong women working in a fish factory in the Irish city during 1980s. Through comic monologue, raw powerful language, movement and dance, the women give us a snapshot of the characters and challenges in their lives at the time.

Exploring themes of family, trust, love and loss, Gutted touches on issues of domestic violence and abortion, which remain as relevant today as they were over 30 years ago.

Sharon, from Whitstable, said: "Growing up close to a fish factory in Dublin, I was intrigued by the charismatic and resilient women who I'd see travelling to and from work there.

"They were tough, hard-working women, but they never stopped chatting and laughing.

Sharon Byrne's Gutted is an unsettling black comedy. Picture: Tim StubbingsSharon Byrne's Gutted is an unsettling black comedy. Picture: Tim Stubbings

"Life as a woman in Ireland still has its - often suppressed - challenges, and I felt compelled to raise awareness of these issues and help break the silence."

Director Chris White leads Soho Theatre's Writer's Lab and is an RSC Associate, directing a production of Henry IV at the Houses of Parliament and leading residencies and projects in China, India and the United States.

Most recently he directed Booby's Bay by Henry Darke.

This Gutted production is made possible with the support of Arts Council England, producer Vivienne Foster, The Marlowe Canterbury and First Degree East.

Sharon said: "Gutted focuses around three young women at the Dublin fish factory. It explores their individual lives and the challenges they face, including themes such as domestic violence, family sexual abuse, teen pregnancy and abortion. Despite the issues though, it's really fun. It's a black comedy.

"The inspiration came from my childhood, growing up in Dublin. After my parents separated when I was about 11 or 12, I moved to my grandparents' house, close to the factory. I saw the women walking back and forth to work in the morning and evenings - wearing blue coats, aprons, caps and wellies, smoking a roll-up and generally putting the world to rights.

"They were tough women but also admirable, and I thought to myself that would make a good play, explore their lives, their stories."

Chris said: "It's a story of a night out. We spend an evening with them where they're trying to escape the things that are clawing them, like having to clock in, work all day and clock off. This Saturday night, all three of them are hoping for a big experience, a Cinderella moment where something will change in their lives. And for each of them something happens but it isn't necessarily the dream or the diversion that they were hoping for.

"As a result, they change their circumstances and - in a small way - take control of who they are and what's going to happen next. Sharon really captures the essence of Dublin life through the idiom of the play. There's singing and humour. Hopefully it's like being in the same bar with them on a night out."

Sharon added: I think because the play touches on the issue of abortion, it makes it extremely relevant today."

Gutted will be performed at the Churchill Theatre in Bromley on October 12.

Tickets from churchilltheatre.co.uk, or box office on 020 3285 6000 or tickets@churchilltheatre.co.uk

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