Blurred Lines/Women of Twilight (The Shed, National Theatre; The White Bear Theatre, Kennington) – reviews by Carole Woddis.

 

For some time, it’s been felt we’re in the midst of a `third wave’ of feminism.

And certainly, the high profile now given to gender inequalities stemming from power bases, be they political, entertainment or City offices would seem to confirm that things are changing albeit the abuse happened in earlier eras when perceptions of relations between the sexes and within the sexes were very different.

Last October, I saw a remarkable piece, Pretty Ugly, by young performance artist, Louise Orwin. It took apart, in devastating fashion, the accessibility the web and social media have now placed in the hands of anyone who either wants to view porn or abuse someone online – and all at the touch of a button.

Cue Blurred Lines, the latest show in the NT’s very successful temporary building, The Shed which sadly will disappear when the rebuilt and renamed Cottesloe theatre (The Dorfman) is completed.  The Shed has thoroughly justified its existence by encouraging a different approach to the content and form of productions.

Blurred Lines, devised by an all female company and with text by Nick Payne (Constellations, Evening Standard’s Best play award winner) and directed by Carrie Cracknell (director of the multi-award winning (A Doll’s House) is a coolly sophisticated but disturbing addition to the feminist debate with a plethora of statistics interwoven into a series of fragmented scenes about the way women are represented in society (very amusing), the blurred lines between dating and rape (sobering), the issues of work-family balance (ominous) and in a final very naughty send-up, a fictional post-show discussion between an Oxbridge type male director (played by Marion Bailey), an actress and an interviewer highlighting how even theatre falls prey to glamourising violence against women.

Bunny Christie’s glossy podium steps give the production a marvellous ironic commercial sheen.  But it also serves as a metaphor of entrapment for women teetering and stumbling in high-blocked heels and trying to climb the slippery slope of male-female relations.

Not so much a play more an impressionistic kaleidoscope with songs and poetry, it shows how far we’ve come in terms of style and presentation when compared with a remarkable rediscovery of a play that in its time, early 1950s, was hailed as `London’s Most Daring Play’ (it was later filmed and acquired the unenviable distinction of becoming the first X-rated British film).  Typically, it disappeared from view until revived at Kennington’s White Bear pub theatre in south London.  First put on last year, it’s been brought back for another run with hopes of it even having a further `life’ in north London.

I hope so, it’s well worth seeing. If Women of Twilight is an example, par excellence of social realism (before the term had been coined for post 1956 British theatre) the issues it raises, alas, in some ways are still with us today if not perhaps in terms of stigma and taboo.

Closely allied – but very different from Call the Midwife! – Rayman’s 1951/2 drama focuses on the unhappy fate of unmarried mothers in a way we might find hard to completely comprehend today.

But other problems lurk.  Befriended by a seemingly altruistic landlady, Rayman gradually reveals darker intentions to do with baby farming and the abuse of very young children – sadly just as prevalent today.

Jonathan Rigby’s production – and with its all female cast of 11 going against the normal run of the mill casting requirements – should be seen for the emotional honesty and authenticity of its production and performances. Particularly outstanding are Elizabeth Donnelly and Claire Louise Amias as Christine and Vivianne, two of the mothers who strike up an unlikely friendship. But there is able support too from half a dozen others.

Melodrama does threaten to capsize things towards the end but in designer Olivia Knight’s dank and dreary basement set, carrying all too convincingly the awful hallmarks of 1950s austerity, the poignancy of Rayman’s message comes through, undimmed. And glowing.

Blurred Lines is in The Shed, National Theatre to Feb 22; see www.nationaltheatre.org

Women of Twilight is at The White Bear to Jan 26; see www.whitebeartheatre.co.uk.

But look out for it maybe transferring to north London in the future.

© Carole Woddis

Jan 23, 2014