ACTA have been touring their production of “Gas Girls” across the region since its inception in 2014. It is a community piece, based on stories and information from the relatives of women who worked at Chittening and Avonmouth factories making and loading mustard gas shells to aid the efforts at the front during WW1.
This is an intriguing story, full of unsurprising horror and a good balance of humour as the characters are drawn well and the dialogue allows information and storytelling to sit comfortably side by side.
Alongside the crazy anecdotes of drinking hot chocolate to combat the mustard gas poisoning and the documented evidence of accident and death, some of which were no doubt covered up and listed as Spanish flu, this piece of theatre retains a true heart and has a valuable story to tell.
Performances are good, it is a huge company and whilst it is an amateur performance the design and detail in costume lends itself to an impressive vision. The many moments of monologue become repetitive in their direction but the actors create believable and valuable personalities whose differing opinions are clearly communicated.
Gary McAlister as Captain Harry Roberts, the doctor in charge and Laurence Daly as Whitelaw, who oversaw the factory are a strong central dynamic. Their frequent clashes are well handled and the tensions of the war clearly affecting them both.
The girls create a great camaraderie and humour in the workplace. Their resilience, acceptance and determination is inspiring as well as a life sentence to their health.
There is much to like in this production. Its direct approach ensures it steers away from sentimentality, the research has been thorough and ACTA bring a vital piece of history to the attention of a new generation.