Sex in the city, 1930s-style, comes to Abbey Theatre

Inequality and sexual politics in the workplace are common themes in the theatre today, but not something you would expect from a 1930s play. However, London Wall, at the Abbey Theatre from next week, strongly evokes the atmosphere of the period and the concerns of working women.

This engaging social comedy was written by John Van Druten, best known for I Am A Camera (1951), his dramatisation of Christopher Isherwood’s Berlin stories, which famously formed the basis of the musical Cabaret.

London Wall was written much earlier in 1931. It starred the young John Mills in the West End, and was not revived until 2013 at the Finborough Theatre.

Director Tina Swain said: “It impressed audiences with its shrewd observation and surprisingly modern take on office politics, the limited career options for unmarried women, and sexual double standards.”

Husbands were still hard to find after the wholesale slaughter of the First World War. Jobs were scarce. Nearly three million people were unemployed in the UK. Women faced a life of low-wage drudgery as secretaries or typists. An office girl would count herself fortunate to earn 30 shillings a week, perhaps rising to three pounds after 10 years of service, and matrimony offered the only escape.

The story focuses largely on the lives and loves of these women, primarily 19 year old Pat Milligan. A naïve orphan who is dating a shy young shipping clerk, Pat finds herself the target of a city solicitor’s lothario, Mr Brewer, who regards the girls in the office as fair game. What is today considered sexual harrassment back then was part and parcel of daily life.

At the other end of the scale we see her senior, Miss Janus, who has spent her best years working while waiting for marriage. At 35, she fears her romantic life may now be over as her last chance for marriage seems to be slipping away. Yet she reveals a steely determination combined with a surprisingly romantic side.

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London Wall features an array of fascinating characters, including Miss Hooper, who is seeing a married man. He is unlikely to ask his wife for a divorce though. Also we meet Miss Bufton, a modern young woman with a string of boyfriends. But is she too free with her favours to secure a husband? Then there is Miss Willesden, who shows that money doesn’t necessarily bring happiness or security, as the life of a wealthy, elderly spinster is no less precarious.

Performances take place in the Abbey Theatre Studio from Friday October 7 to Saturday October 8 at 8pm; on Sunday October 9 at 2.30pm; and from Tuesday October 11 to Saturday October 15 at 8pm. To book tickets go to the website or call the box office on 01727 857861.