MIDSUMMER MISCHIEF B, RSC Courtyard Theatre & touring

GUEST REVIEWER CHARLOTTE VALORI SEES THE SECOND TWO PLAYS IN THE RSC’S “MIDSUMMER MISCHIEF” SERIES: PROGRAMME B

Continuing the exploration of the challenge phrase “Well-behaved women seldom make history”, Programme B of Midsummer Mischief pairs a play about a woman so well-behaved she was virtually forgotten by her own family, with a play about a woman so hidebound by modern magazine discourse that she cannot live up to the example of her fearless mother. Directed by Jo McInnes, these naturalistic yet surreal pieces are funny, fast-paced, and unsettling.

I CAN HEAR YOU – E.V. Crowe

Perhaps drawing inspiration from the brilliant recent French TV drama Les Revenants, E. V. Crowe’s play shows a family in the immediate aftermath of a tragedy which turns, rapidly, into deliciously awkward farce, as the much-beloved and dead son comes back to rejoin family life. Robert Boulter is chillingly aggressive and careless as Tommy, the macho footballer son with more than a hint of nastiness about him, while John Bowe is convincing and affecting as a father unable to articulate his emotions. Divisions between male and female are tenaciously gripped in this family: the men ignore, control and domineer over their women, who in their turn are unable to get traction on their own lives and dreams. Marie, the mother who died before the action begins, is offered a similar chance, like Tommy, to come back from the dead.  I must say, I didn’t blame her for refusing. Starkly funny, E.V. Crowe’s play shows us how old-fashioned patriarchal family stereotypes fail to nourish or support anyone, and speaks clearly about why they must be broken.

THIS IS NOT AN EXIT – Abi Zakarian

“I was prepared for you to be many things, darling, but naïve wasn’t one of them.” Julie Legrand (also a magnificent Zoe in Programme A) is unforgettable as tough Northern mother Blanche, who chained herself to Parliament when 8 months pregnant to fight for equal pay. Her baby grew up to be Nora, our heroine, played expertly by Ruth Gemmell (wonderful in all four works), who lives in a welter of glossy magazines, manufacturing soapy bylines (“879 Jeans That Make You Look Thinner”) without hope or end, staring depression and desolation in the face. Cue Scarlett Brookes as the hilarious, glamourous Scouse “find your inner lioness” life coach Gulch, and some of the funniest parodying of magazine empowerment-speak I have been privileged to find. Nora is living with the burden of parental expectation, a fear of failure and a consciousness that failure has already arrived; all she can do is hide in a Cath Kidston pillowcase and growl on demand.  As Gulch and the insouciant, thoroughly modern Riley (“Ain’t you heard lady, there ain’t no girls anymore?”) bully Nora more and more fiercely, we see that they are an externalisation of the million media pressures on women today. Clever, funny, and moving, with a haunting sense of nostalgia for the lost priorities of the past, and some wonderful original music by Johanna Groot Bluemink, Zakarian takes us back to a time when achievements, hopes and dreams were real. Let’s hope they can be so again.

– CHARLOTTE VALORI

At the RSC Courtyard Theatre until 12 July: 0844 800 1110

At the Royal Court Theatre Upstairs 15-17 July: 020 7565 5000

Rating: Four 4 Meece Rating

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