The Bottle Factory Outing by Beryl Bainbridge, adapted by Jane Rogers

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BBC Radio 4, 28 May 2011
Set in 1970, this tale involved an outing by a group of local bottle factory workers and their Italian employers. The Italians were after the (female) workers; the workers for their part enjoyed the experience of letting their hair down and drinking, occasionally flirting yet refusing to give in to their male pursuers.
Susan Roberts' production initially seemed very reminiscent of a Victoria Wood comedy (Pat and Margaret or Dinnerladies), involving a group of women of different ages and backgrounds united by their common experience of work. There was the flirty one, the shy one, the big bold brassy one; the kind of stereotypes we might expect. All that was missing was the cast: Sian Reeves (Brenda) and Sharon Percy (Freda) were no substitute for Wood's regular repertory company, including Celia Imrie, Susie Blake or Julie Walters.
The play promised more than it delivered; this being 1970, the women's morals and attitudes towards sex were still shaped by post-1945 puritanism that simply didn't matter a decade later. Flirting was permissable, but marriage and fidelity still mattered. Although the outing provided an excuse for people to let their hair down, the whole event looked like turning into a damp squib.
But then something dramatic happened, as Freda died in the middle of the trip. No one wanted to admit how it happened, but the play's mood instantly changed. At one level it became something of a wild farce, as the women and their employers searched for a way to dispose of the corpse without incriminating themselves. The dialogue became more quick-fire; the characters interrupted one another, their voices becoming more and more shrill as they spoke. At length they decided to drop it into the river; even if the corpse would be discovered later on, there was nothing to connect it to them. The play ended with the cast heaving a collective sigh of relief once the deed had been accomplished.
However Roberts cross-cut this mood with a series of reflective scenes, as the women mourned the loss of a good friend and colleague. It took a bereavement to make them aware of the importance of group identity, that did not involve the Italian management. Liverpool in 1970 was a strictly stratified world where gender and class mattered, particularly in times of adversity.
Sometimes this contrast in tone seemed a trifle awkward, as if Roberts were trying to cram too many thematic points into a short (59-minute) running time, but we were left with the impression that the women would continue to look out for one another, despite losing one of their number. Perhaps the farcical aspect of the play was necessary as a means of reminding them and us of the significance of collectivity.