Search
Get a personalised letter from Santa

Review: Sanofi play offers snapshots of Dagenham history

PUBLISHED: 13:00 02 September 2015

Well, created by 
Geraldine Pilgrim with residents of
 Barking & Dagenham at the former
 Sanofi Factory, runs until this Sunday, September 6. Photo: Sheila Burnett

Well, created by Geraldine Pilgrim with residents of Barking & Dagenham at the former Sanofi Factory, runs until this Sunday, September 6. Photo: Sheila Burnett

Sheila Burnett

A low, refrigerated hum fills the foyer of the former Sanofi factory as we pass a dozing cleaning lady, before picking up our prescriptions from a white-coated chemist in the adjacent room.

This is not so much a play as an immersive rollercoaster through the lives of nearly eight decades of Sanofi employees – a journey through a collective memory we absorb with every disembodied ceiling voice and silently lurking character.

Beginning in a theatrical museum detailing the history of the site, from the 30s through to its closure in 2013, we are then led by silent, stern-faced chemists through the corridors, locker rooms and factory floors of the past.

We take in sleeping May & Baker workers, starkly depicted by desk lamps. One, I notice on a second walk past, dons a gold, pointy party hat.

Holes in the wall reveal a bird-faced, gas-masked vision of personified death, daubing a red cross on a black wall. Another shows a masked surgeon carrying out an operation on a blonde haired patient.

You want to linger longer, as you’re marched through choirs of chemists and happy-making packers on the production line, dancing and clapping to ‘Don’t Worry Be Happy’.

But before you know it you’re whisked off to an eerie row of empty hospital beds, draped by an ongoing scream of a stitch, the red thread of a life-stupport machine draped over the beds, until you see a woman at the end, placidly making the creation.

Plant-growing and phial-filling alludes to the ground-breaking work May & Baker did, not only in pharmaceuticals but also with herbicides.

If it doesn’t seem to make chronological sense, that’s for a very good reason. Memory does not work in straight lines, and the merging of news clips, song, and activity gives snapshots of the past, filmic insights into how people lived and worked in that space, and how they remember it.

Artistic director Geraldine Pilgrim recognised that the driving force behind the project was how much people cared about the place, and this is reinforced by the 170-strong cast, made up of former Sanofi employees and many of the borough’s residents.

When we hear an old woman reminiscing of her career there, and watch a man in the locker room carry out his daily actions, you begin to realise that the now empty building contains an endless store of precious memories.

“There were difficult times, but I loved it - it was the best job I ever had,” reflects one male voice, emanating from the ceiling.

Well is a landmark commission from Creative Barking and Dagenham, supported by funding by the National Lottery through Arts Council England, an Artsworks Development Grant from the Paul Hamlyn Foundation and the Wellcome Trust.

The show runs until Sunday, September 6, with performances throughout the evening. Tickets cost £3.50 to £12.50, with cheaper prices for Barking & Dagenham residents.

For more information visit thebroadwaybarking.com or call 020 8507 5607.

Related articles

Latest Barking and Dagenham Stories

Yesterday, 16:00

Essex club played against 10 men for almost an hour after Josh Staunton saw red for Shaymen

Yesterday, 19:00

A violinist hopes to raise £15,000 to transform an old double-decker bus into a mobile music school.

Yesterday, 17:45

The MP for Barking has criticised prime minister Theresa May for calling off tomorrow’s vote on her Brexit deal.

Yesterday, 17:18

Our reporter Liam Coleman met with the big man before a hectic few weeks.

Yesterday, 16:02

The Exchange in Ilford has added a state-of-the-art, Savannah-themed play area, with hand painted animal sculptures, to its brand new family zone, designed by American creative agency Playtime

Yesterday, 15:13

It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas - and the scores of Santas running through the streets this weekend certainly helped add to the festive feeling.

Yesterday, 14:09

Crossrail, London’s new east to west railway service, may be delayed even further and could require a £2billion funding boost, Transport for London (TfL) has confirmed.

Second-half goals from Snodgrass, Hernandez and Anderson give Hammers victory over Crystal Palace

PROMOTED CONTENT

The Exchange in Ilford has added a state-of-the-art, Savannah-themed play area, with hand painted animal sculptures, to its brand new family zone, designed by American creative agency Playtime

Are you aged over 25 and an unpaid carer? If you want to return to employment but need practical help and support to get there, Working for Carers can help.

Everest Estates stress-free service guarantees a fixed income for your East London or Essex property every month, even if no one is currently living there. Here they talk about the scheme and explain how it can help you dodge common letting headaches.

Newsletter Sign Up

Barking and Dagenham Post twice-weekly newsletter
Sign up to receive our regular email newsletter

Our Privacy Policy

Most read entertainment

Hot Jobs

Show Job Lists

Education Promo

Digital Edition

cover

Enjoy the
Barking and Dagenham Post
e-edition today

Subscribe

Education and Training

cover

Read the
Education and Training
e-edition today

Read Now