Emily Godfrey: Hope in The Shadow Factory

Earlier this semester University of Southampton English students taking an introductory module on the history of theatre and film had an opportunity to review Howard Brenton’s hugely popular play, The Shadow Factory, at Nuffield Southampton Theatres. Emily Godfrey discusses how domestic life changed in a war torn country.

Like ghosts the actors emerge from the shadows, and like ghosts they are, ghosts of a time at the verge of living memory. The Shadow Factory explores the effect of World War II on the people who served at home, and depicts the struggles of domestic life in a war torn country, but despite this delivers a poignant message of hope even in the darkest times.

Throughout the play light is used to represent hope, and this is most clearly represented in Jackie’s grief. The death of Jackie’s fiance in a random car accident emphasises the unavoidable tragedies of the everyday world and reminds us, the audience, that death is not consigned to the battlefield. The sudden illumination of the light from the darkness reveals a newfound hope, and even a new beginning for Jackie in the form of the airplane, and reveals that darkness is not permanent. The fluid movement of the lights is used to reflect the movement of airplane wings, and in a time of difficulty brings new hope to the characters. Indeed, the production of airplanes in itself is a visual metaphor for hope and therefore Mr Dimmock’s refusal to allow his laundrette to become a shadow factory is actually a demonstration of his fear of losing the War. For Mr Dimmock the laundrette is also a source of identity and it is this identity he fears losing in converting the laundrette into a shadow factory, that and losing the ability to choose. The Shadow Factory uncovers a side of World War II that is rarely discussed, that of bitter necessity. Most of the characters in the play face moments of loss, and for Mr Dimmock and Lady Cooper this loss comes forcibly at the hands of their own Government, robbing both characters of their sources of identity. Despite this loss, the airplane reveals to both of them hope for a better world, and hope that they will win, but not before their lives are irrevocably changed.

The Shadow Factory runs until the 2nd of March at NST City. Book tickets here with student tickets starting at £10!

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