From the onset of this play there was laughter. This was Derry humour at its best. An insight into the shirt factory work awaited the audience and the cast didn’t fail to deliver.

Derry and Donegal were rife with the shirt factory industry in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. In Derry, Tillies was the first purpose built shirt factory and it stood tall in the skyline of the city. The drama Tillies, written by Patsy Durnin and directed by Nicky Harley was staged over two nights last weekend at Derry’s Millennium Forum.

The stage setting was the cuff section on the shirt factory floor. It was very realistic and provided the platform for what lay ahead. The moving tale of the women who worked in the factory presented us with an excellent tribute to Derry’s most famous shirt factory and all who were employed there.

Patsy Durnin wrote the book ‘Tillies’ and much of the script for this production came from interviews he did at the time with factory workers.

This play showed us just how strong relationships were formed among the workers in the factory. It is reflected in the way they lived and worked everyday.  There was a real comradeship amongst the workers; even politics didn’t divide them.

This play is set during the Time Study Engineering era and the consequences and effects of this new method of production on the culture and working lives of the factory women are personified through the relationship between the for cuff stitchers: Bertha, Kitty, Suzy and Maggie, a young service girl named lily and big Davy the factory manager, the trade union official and the Time Study Engineer. Rosie the cleaner is also the workers informant.

The introduction of Time Study created friction among the workers. The harmony among them disappeared. As Maggie said, ‘it took away the togetherness of the girls’. Time study puts worker against worker’. The arguing among the girls on stage gained the sympathy of the audience.

The closing of the shirt factory was devastating but it did however give the factory girls the opportunity to use their initiative. They begin making plans for their future. Maggie decides to go into business for herself. These girls acquired many skills while working on the factory floor which enabled them to put to other uses after.

As the last horn sounds, it is sad watching the girls leave the factory floor arm in arm. But there is a real unity in it too. Maggies last words give inspiration to them all, ‘We’ve got plenty of tomorrow’s’……

This play provided a very vivid and emotional portrait of this famous factory and its times. The cast were excellent and they portrayed the era brilliantly. The sense of humour throughout brought a real sense of enjoyment to the production. There was a real sense of place and the Derry audience were very at home.