These Shining Lives

Date 27th March 2023
Society The Green Room Theatre, Wilmslow
Venue The Green Room Theatre, Wilmslow
Type of Production Play
Director Celia Bonner
Written By Melanie Marnich


Author: Steph Niland

Plays based on true events, where the audience is privy to the outcome can, in some ways, take away the captivating power or surprise. It takes great skill and care from theatre-makers to ensure that they are able to grasp their audience and tell the story afresh. This rare skill was executed brilliantly with this production at The Green Room, Wilmslow.

It is set in 1920s America, a period that we romanticise greatly for its liberalism, lively Jazz scene and prohibition. These Shining Lives tells the story of the ladies who lived in Ottawa, Illinois and worked for the Radium Dial Company.  Their job was a simple but skilled one- painting clock and watch faces using pure radium, all the while being assured by the company that there was no risk in working with this radioactive metal. They became known as The Radium Girls, victims (although they never were fond of being described as such – rather strong, independent, and determined women!) of radium poisoning which eventually caused their demise following horrendous illnesses and inflictions.

Alexandra Johnson as Catherine Donohue, the more central character, was likable, somewhat reserved but with a strength of character that was present from the start with her handling of the “new-starter treatment”. Her transition to the frail and suffering but still resolute Catherine was impressive. Well done.

Her husband, Tom Donohue, played by John Keen also made an effective transformation from positive, upbeat and supportive husband to disenchanted, when Catherine’s work life forced him to up his role at home, to confused and beaten partner – unsure what to believe and wishing for previous times. The relationship between these two characters was believable and relaxed. Congratulations.

Jess Trimble was a delight as Frances O’Connell. She represented the innocent and young women who died at the hands of this company. Jess’ sweet and solid performance was very endearing.

Madeleine Healey and Meg Brassington put in extremely strong performances as Pearl Payne and Charlotte Purcell. These two actresses shone bright whenever on stage. Madeleine’s Pearl was enchanting, it is hard to watch others when there is someone so expressive and consistently engaged in the action – a great job. Meg’s moxie as Charlotte was so well played. She was bold and full of guts and grit but nuanced and layered, we saw her softer side and enjoyed every facet of this well-honed character.

Andy Neve was well cast as Mr Reed, a company cog and the cast put on good performances of the supporting, required narrators, judges and doctors.

The Green Room’s elegant and considered stage working was put to great use again in this production and the rigorous planning of scene changes were accurate and appreciated. The set design, by Paula Keen was perfectly pitched – the desks on wheels and compartments -genius.

The direction was spot on, the use of the space and placing scenes at angles was a lovely ,deliberate decision by Celia Bonner and the repetition of using the circular movement, mirroring the clockface was a stroke of brilliance. The shining faces painted on to the wall at the end was an appealing touch of artistry!

In conclusion, this well- handled historical piece, performed wonderfully, radiating talent, made for a riveting watch.