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Adagio Teas
   Features  >  London Theatre Reviews

at the Duke of York’s


  Bel Powley and Tamsin Greig/ Ph: Robert Workman

It ought to be a cause for celebration: a new play in which the central character is a woman of 50 – hardly representative of the demographic lavished with attention in our youth-obsessed, male-dominated world – that purports to examine life from her viewpoint, reassessing the triumphs and failures of feminism and exploring motherhood and female experience in the 21st century. Unfortunately, April de Angelis’ drama, which has transferred to the West End from the Royal Court Theatre, has bitten off more than it can chew, and in the absence of a single sharp tooth, merely mauls its subject ineffectually. The result is a soggy mess, devoid of political insight, short on laughs despite the occasional sparky line and a couple of ill-advised stabs at farcical hilarity, overlong, and ultimately – though this couldn’t have been further from the playwright’s intention – patronising.
In Nina Raine’s rather sluggish production, Tamsin Greig plays Hilary, stressed out, exhausted and despairing at her evolution into one of society’s "invisible women" – females who, no longer in the flush of youth and therefore past their use-by date both as breeders and eye candy, are largely regarded by convention and consumerism as surplus to requirements. Anxious that her job at a literacy unit is under threat from funding cuts, she’s also contending with the bolshie attitude and sexual irresponsibility of her teenage daughter Tilly (Bel Powley). Support from her husband Mark (Ewan Stewart) is non-existent, especially since Tilly has long since learned the art of twisting older men around her little finger and undermining Mum’s rules by sweet-talking Dad into letting her have her way. While Hilary struggles to keep it together, aided by greedy slurps of post-work wine, her best friend Frances (Doon Mackichan) seeks validation in sex, prowling bars in search of a pick-up and indulging in a new hobby of burlesque dancing – which leads to not one, but two excruciating scenes in which she insists on showing off her skills, on the second occasion forcing the tearful Hilary, got up as a French maid, to join in.
With her marriage struggling, Hilary finds herself tempted by offers of carnal comfort from both Roland (Richard Lintern), the equally unhappily married actor dad of Tilly’s boyfriend, and from Cam, one of her daughter’s friends. But though this is at heart the kind of spiky suburban comedy that for many decades Alan Ayckbourn has done rather better, De Angelis’ plot spirals into implausibility. And as it drags on, the thin characterisation and lack of any real political analysis begins to grow glaringly apparent, and correspondingly irksome.
“What has happened to us, feminists?” wails Hilary. “We died out, like bus conductors,” comes the tart reply from Frances. But De Angelis never gets around to interrogating changes in the feminist movement; and in suggesting that women over 40 inevitably become either sex-starved and desperate, or weeping on the verge of nervous breakdown, she not only disregards reality (actors Mackichan and Greig themselves are proof of the diminishing generalisation at work here), but reduces her characters to pathetic stereotypes, without addressing the very concrete issues and dilemmas that women of all ages continue to face under enduring patriarchy and phallocracy.
The actors make the best of it. Greig is terrific, tough, vulnerable, and as intelligent as De Angelis’ thin script permits, and Mackichan rescues the brittle Frances from abject humiliation by performing her horrendous bump-and-grind routine with manic comic intensity. But the whole thing feels like a sadly wasted opportunity.


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