Penelope Skinner’s 2010 play has been revived by New Light Productions, a company that focuses on female writers. We all know we need more focus on female writers but I don’t think this is the best play to open up with.
Katharine Hardman stars as Cassie, a Feminist and political lobbyist who in 2010 is still rallying against the patriarchy, sexual violence and the role women play in society (some things never change) who lives with Rose (Robyn Wilson), an irritating obsessed with spirituality, numerology, astrology and not paying her rent. Whilst I felt Hardman’s Cassie was well developed; juggling her own desires with her feminist credentials Wilson’s Rose is difficult to warm to; irritating characters should be in moderation and to make her a big focus as she desperately tries to win back the attention of a short-term affair in Joseph McCarthy’s Mark, a gaslighting womaniser is a huge mistake from the writer. Rose’s obsession with him is deeply uncomfortable but the lack of conclusion for his character to treat women the way he does is disappointing. It is not enough to suggest “Oh, because he is a man”.
There is also another character called Tim (Joseph Holyrood) whose behaviour is particularly odd, he’s clearly a device but for some reason opens and closes the play with a long, quite boring monologue about his dead nan then is mostly monosyllabic.
I struggled to understand why this play was chosen by New Light Productions; it is disjointed, frequently unresolved and the characters make unfathomable decisions. As a result I don’t care what happens to them and found myself quite angry about the directions they took (Cassie sleeping with Mark would be more shocking if her and Rose were actually friends) and whilst the performances are as good as their character (Hardman, in particular, tries her best with Cassie in the first half but the character is underdeveloped in the second half) the production felt static and lacking in the energy it needed to get the audience on side. The staging is very basic with its flat setting and not always clear (when they move to show a scene in a chicken shop the only indication we have is the character’s uniform) and would have been better to stage in the smaller studio space with minimal props. Aoife Smith’s direction is uninspired, despite the various scene changes failing to give a decent sense of time and place throughout.
It is a shame because Robyn Wilson, Joseph McCarthy and Katharine Hardman try to give some depth to these characters and play, which often has humour and this is well timed but there isn’t enough background to understand why they do what they do. Holyrood’s Tim is let down by a poorly written character who lacks purpose within the story. An actor is only as good as their source material. Skinner is a strong writer, I loved Linda at the Royal Court, but this a weak piece of work that should feel more timely than it does, it has dated quite badly in 8 years.
New Light Productions produce a night of new writing on 6 August from all female playwrights