Steve Waters often tackles subjects in areas where other playwrights fear to tread and his latest play is no exception. Immigration and exploitation are set to the soundtrack of Led Zeppelin in Fast Labour, an uncomfortable look at a hidden population of people living in our country today. Charlotte Marshall was in the first night audience at Hampstead theatre.
Opening in a fish factory, another nameless worker recently smuggled in from another nameless country is initiated into life where contracts are never seen and papers are never in order. However, Victor (Craig Kelly), previously the manager of his own sausage factory in Ukraine, is not just another worker happy to stay at the bottom of the economic food chain, taking direction from the unethical and sanctimonious Grimmer (Mark Jax). After weeks of gutting fish, pulling weeds and picking carrots, he devises a plan to start his own immigrant labour business in an attempt to counteract the despicable manner in which the workers are expected to live, giving up even basic human rights for the slim chance of a better life.
Just a few months after setting up new business Fast Labour with his Scottish lover – the young and impressionable Anita, and fellow immigrants Alexei and Andrius, their turnover is exceeding £100,000. But Victor, transformed from dirty Adidas tracksuits to sleazy suits, soon forgets the roots of his cause and the people looking to him for hope become simply a means to an end.
Waters paints no heroes in this play – Victor begins as a figure of potential change and growth for the horrific conditions and lives the immigrants working for Grimmer experience, but becomes seduced by money and status, trapping him into the system he so despised. Anita (Kirsty Stuart), who declares herself time and time “to have no criminal potential”, is seemingly a coward who consciously makes the decision to play ignorant to the consequences of her involvement, happy to believe what she would like to be true in order to be a part of something.
Fast Labour is cleverly staged with three screens continually playing films by Simon Daw and Mic Pool, transforming the action from the fields of East Anglia to the side of the motorway, changing the pace and atmosphere of the play. Along the front of the stage is a bed of soil, a constant reminder of the back breaking labour at the centre of the story and the luxury gardens of the people happy to make money from them.
Waters’s play creates an unsettling look at a very real situation in Britain today, offering no solution or judgement, only leaving the audience to reflect if ignorance really is bliss.