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At the beginning of London Cries, the ghostlight in the Irondale Center’s decrepit ballroom of a space flickers and fades, allowing specters of the 19th-century poor to emerge from the shadowy corners to share with us the private stories and public performances that made up their lives.
With a minimum of brisk dialogue by Irish playwright Frank McGuinness, the piece connects authentic music-hall numbers—the sort of songs barked over the hubbub of a Dickensian crowd—to monologues drawn from London Labour and the London Poor, a collection of articles by Henry Mayhew, the 19th century’s Studs Terkel.
Director and auteur Di Trevis has gathered an intriguing assortment of material, but in the end, London Cries feels a workshop or two short of coherence: It features neither the panoramic scope of a slice-of-society docudrama, nor the clear agenda of a thesis play, nor the organic arc of a dramatic tone poem. In the final song, a sense of purpose emerges, but not one that has been steadily developed throughout the evening. In these last moments, Trevis invites us to compare the disappearing ghosts to the ever-invisible working poor: “Some have no homes/And their sorrows weep/Others laugh and play the game/While London’s fast asleep.”