Saturday, November 10, 2012


Mercury Theatre Company at the Mercury Theatre, Colchester

If you could invite any five guests to dinner ... We've all played that game, and Caryl Churchill's classic from 1982 famously begins with a celebratory meal to which a quintet of strong, successful women are summoned from myth and history.

Their hostess, newly promoted to management upstairs, is Marlene. Also a strong successful woman, but no more a feminist than Margaret Thatcher was a feminist, or that other great hostess from the 80s stage, Beverley out of Abigail's party.

These women have all made sacrifices in their lives, and this themethe price of successruns through the very different second and third acts.

Gari Jones's production succeeds best in the most realistic scene, where Marlene confronts her sister and her past. The opening is impressive, with projected historical notes, and a striking entrance for the triumphant Marlene [Gina Isaac]. The restaurantsumptuously designed by Sara Perkshas a large round table, revolving for most of the time, which means that the women end up mostly shouting their notoriously overlapping lines at each other, so there's little sense of sisterhood or celebration. Most telling is the Pope Joan of Shuna Snow, who manages to be funny, moving and convincing. Even her Latin Lucretius persuades.

In fact, as the play crash lands in the real world of the employment agency and the Suffolk council estate, there are some wonderful performances from all the actors. Nadia Morgan is Chaucer's Griselda, and a pathetic applicant who can hope only for a position in a lampshade firm. Clare Humphrey makes a strong, monosyllabic Greet as well as a very touching Angie, the child who longs for the career-woman world of her "auntie" but seems fated to stay in Suffolk. Marvellous monologues from Amy Stacy as the fantasist Shona [who is also Angie's little friend who'd like to be a nuclear physicist], Amanda Haberland [an impressive Lady Nijo at the meal] as Win, and Pope Joan again as a woman who's spent twenty years being overlooked in middle management. Kristin Hutchinson is the Edinburgh explorer, but more significantly a loyal wife, plus the stay-at-home sister who holds her own against Marlene in the searingly strong final scenes.

Has their mother, unseen in a care home, wasted her life as a housewife in a backwater ? Will Angie's children say the same of her ? Well, they'd be grown-up now, or at the least in their teens; maybe the students in the audience for whom this play is a set text, and who are trying to make sense of the themes thirty years on, with the rather obvious assistance of a Then and Now montage at the end. "I don't understandthat's not how that scene is written ..." Well, that's what directors do, and like it or not, this ambitious, hard-hitting production with its soundtrack and its projected images, is what we've come to expect from the inspirational 
creative team at the Mercury.

production photograph: Robert Day

this piece first appeared on The Public Reviews

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