In this play, a plethora of themes wove their way through a text which seemed to highlight women’s issues on every level, personal, political, sexual and emotional.
It was another huge challenge for the Stables, not least because of the large number of piecemeal scenes.
At the National Theatre, I gather that this problem was resolved using a large revolving stage.
At the Stables, although creative lighting effects minimised this, (could it have been used even more?) furniture removals between every scene slowed momentum gained by some extraordinary performances.
The lead (Celia, by Julie Tucker-Williams) and two main supporting roles (Florence Boorman, by Yvee Lester, and Eve, by Emily Hill) left little to be improved in a triangle of desire played out against a backdrop of repressive Victorian lives.
Wealthy Celia, toying with people and politics, discovered her heart, to her material downfall; this juxtaposed with Flo and Eve more physically suffering the horror of force-feeding rather than conceding any weakness.
These central performances were intense but never over-acted, and so much the more powerful for that.
The supporting roles were multiple. Men swapped from courtroom to London club to medical to street scene; women from suffragette to nurse to socialite to prison warder.
Peter Lawrence, Jim Truscott, Simon Hookey, Ian Klemen, Matt Lincoln and Tom O’Sullivan, Ginny Beaumont, Christine Spencer, Thea Watts, Yvonne Rees and Veronica Ollero demonstrated the director’s talent for achieving fluid, quasi-improvised group scenes and beautifully natural performances. Celia’s husband William Cain (Chris Rose) moved in amongst, with a tender mix of protectiveness, fear for his wife’s safety and misery that she “does not” care about her marriage vows after all.
True to life, the play squeezed humour from the grimmest circumstances. Prison officer Briggs (Imogen Willetts) never flinched from her duty as straight man, as Boorman in the depths of adversity found courage to poke fun at her warders.
Costumes were impressive and abundant, and placed us firmly in the period.
Without becoming preachy or facile, this play considered many womens’ issues which urgently need airing.
Well done director Maureen Nelson - I vote for more plays like these.
Review by Margaret Blurton