27 September 2018 (released)
27 September 2018
An opening on a dark and misty wasteland with women chanting curses and spells wasn’t what I was expecting, yet this play is greatly concerned with destiny and fortune. The women turn out to be girls who, on the cusp of adolescence, are both excited by and fearful of their impending reproductive power. They share their superstitions of fertility with each other, about which, of course, they’d never tell anyone else, plot the fantasy killings of their mothers, subconsciously aware that they are destined to replace them, and daydream about what lives they will lead.
Rather than being contemporaries, we learn that the four girls are actually successive generations of the same family, the narrative of the play moving back and forth through time, showing the interactions of the mothers and daughters. Spanning the late twenties to the 1980s, the changes in the lives of women and girls is examined, in particular the expectations placed upon them by others, principally by their mothers, and then the men who are part of their adult lives. Men are never directly seen or heard, but are felt only through the four female characters on stage.
The play is rightly highly regarded, being both powerful and moving, and this production was wonderfully acted. Carole Dance as Doris, the eventual great-grandmother, gives an emotionally affecting study of a great arc of experience, from motivated adolescence, to blissful falling in love, through duty, disappointment and resentment, to something much nearer contentment in the company of the youngest of the family. The youngest, Rosie, is played by Felicity Houlbrooke with a bubbling excitement that truly communicates a passionate, almost wild optimism, such that you hope she will carry it through, undimmed, for all of her adult life.
Connie Walker as Margaret, and Kathryn Ritchie as her daughter Jackie, are the pair in the middle, who find it so hard to tell each other what they really think, a theme that is explored throughout, and the climactic scene between them is played out with considerable force.
I had some reservations about the set design, the “wasteland” scenery being used for everything, with very slight changes for certain scenes. I think, like me, many members of the audience were bemused by the site of Doris tucking the young Margaret into bed outdoors underneath a pile of rubbish, while she seemed to walk back to the house, and to make it seem even more cruel, during an air raid. The rubbish doubles up as a bed, and later as a piano; eventually I got used to this, but an indoor / outdoor contrast may have made more sense – to me at any rate.
This is nevertheless a beautifully acted, absorbing and very thought-provoking evening that succeeds in landing quite an emotional impact.