Aldwych Theatre, London WC2
Opened 9 January, 2002

*** Seminal work, overdue a revival but showing its age

Caryl Churchill's play celebrates its 20th anniversary, but its modern-classic status is more a matter of influence than enduring quality.

Everyone who has seen or read it remembers the first scene, in which protagonist Marlene celebrates her promotion to the board of an employment agency by throwing a dinner party for six women from history and art, including a 19th-century Scottish lady traveller, a 13th-century Japanese courtesan and the semi-mythical Pope Joan. To be sure, it's a lively piece of writing, but both inconsistent with Marlene's actual character (why would such a model of Thatcherism be interested in these figures of "the sisterhood" at all?) and wholly eclipsed in its emotional power by her third-act confrontation with her sister Joyce, who stayed in Suffolk with her family and even raised Marlene's daughter Angie as her own.

Director Thea Sharrock stages the play well, but too often goes for broad performances from her cast. Pascale Burgess's Angie is at times almost a cartoon of a backward teenager, which is dangerous with such a subject. Helen Anderson strikes exactly the right note as Joyce, and Joanna Scanlan steals her scenes as Pope Joan and a middle-aged client of the agency. But this revival in fact suggests that we may revere Churchill's play too much.

Written for

Copyright © Ian Shuttleworth; all rights reserved.

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