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Reviewing the Hull-themed 80’s throwback musical at Hull Truck Theatre

I have just got home from seeing Guts! The Musical at Hull Truck Theatre, and I have returned with a sense of shame – over not knowing anything about this part of my city’s history!

Written by a local writer Maureen Lennon, Guts takes us back to 1984, in an undisclosed company’s fish packing factory, where 15 women stand up and argue that their work is of equal value to the company as the labourers, and that they should be paid accordingly!

Maureen was commissioned to write the play by the Hull Maritime Museum, due to re-open in 2025, and set to researching. She discovered a short film Made by the TUC (Trades Union Congress) for their Equal Pay Archive, delving into the stories of the women who went on strike for equal pay. She described it as “Hull’s Own Made in Dagenham”, and it certainly has its similarities.

One very interesting thing I found in the lobby before the show was the stories up on the wall from the actual workers at the factory, some of whom had even gone to the tribunal to fight for equal pay! I loved that it was giving a voice to them, and telling their story which has remained mostly unknown for decades.

Guts is a comedy musical, with period-appropriate music, but tells a serious tale of women struggling for their rights to be paid for the work they’ve been doing. One stand-out part of the show was when Eileen (Jayne Oliver) tells of her time working in the shipyards during the war – building ships and welding just like all the “men” – the prejudice, judgement, and snide remarks they had to deal with… only to be discarded once the war was over and the men returned; Forgotten, “spare parts”.

Denise (Laura Grey) brings a lot of comedy into the show, and her character is definitely based on one of the women who was spoken to and had her story up on the wall. I won’t spoil it, but if you read the stories before the show you’ll notice a lot of inspiration was taken from them.

Fred Weeks as Keith is the union rep for the factory. He stands up for the women, even as the women lose hope themselves, and urges them to keep up the fight. I was very impressed with his vocals during one of the songs in Act 1.

I also loved Rebecca Hamilton’s portrayal of Bridget, who is a quirky woman that has an incredible amount of fishy knowledge!

Ultimately, the women that Guts! The Musical is based on, fought against their employers and had a huge impact on the 1984 Equal Pay for Equal Value amendment, due to them banding together and proving that their work is no less skilled than the men’s work, in fact in some cases it’s more skilled.

The entire audience was engaged throughout and by the sounds of the discussions at the interval, everyone very much enjoyed themselves.

I think that anyone who is interested in learning more about Hull’s maritime history should try and get tickets – though with the almost sold-out performance last night, you might struggle to find a ticket!

Guts is running at Hull Truck from now to the 6th of July. Grab tickets here!

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