Howard Brenton's play The Shadow Factory is a historical play set in 1940 during the Battle of Britain, about the impact of German bombing raids on Southampton, where the Government's response to the destruction of the Spitfire factory sparks tensions with the local community. The play was first performed at Nuffield Southampton Theatres as the inaugural production in the new NST City venue on 7 February 2018.
The play is set in the autumn of 1940, with the action taking place in Southampton, the grounds and rooms of Hursley House, just outside the town, and in the Ministry for Aircraft Production, London. When the Supermarine Spitfire factory in the suburb of Woolston is destroyed in the Luftwaffe’s bombing raids, Lord Beaverbrook, as minister of aircraft production, is given the power to requisition local properties as 'shadow factories' in order to keep up the production of Spitfires. The drama focuses on a fictional laundry owner, Fred Dimmock, who resists the government’s draconian powers and threats of imprisonment. The play also features a community ensemble who provide a constant choric comment on the action.
In a Foreword to the published playtext, Howard Brenton writes: 'I write history plays because I’m fascinated by moments of crisis that cause great, even revolutionary change... I see 1940 as one of those moments and not for the obvious reason that we avoided defeat. People survived the Luftwaffe and knuckled down under the orders of the draconian War Ministry. Despair was far more widespread than is acknowledged but also a spirit of ‘sod the lot of them’ began to grow, undetected by the Government. In the end there would be payback. In 1945 Churchill got the shock of his life when the Labour Party won a general election with a majority of 145, then set about the most radical change in our country since the seventeenth century.'
The premiere production was directed by Samuel Hodges. It was performed by David Birrell, Catherine Cusack, Anita Dobson, Lorna Fitzgerald, Hilton McRae, Shala Nyx and Daniel York.