LIBERATION AND COURTSHIP IN A HEAD-ON CLASH
Not long left for Samantha Ellis’ knowing, teasing little comedy of modern manners and delusions, and it’s well worth a look. It was a pleasure to sit among a predominantly young audience – still at the dating stage and pretty hip, this being Hackney – and hear the hoots and shrieks of recognition in laughter. For Ellis has hit upon a pleasing paradox of modern Western life. Which is that there is a strand of feminism – not, luckily, the only one – which runs awkwardly contrary to certain innate instincts of heterosexual mating.
The teasing flick of a flirty fringe, the all-day grooming for a special date,, the delight of being swept off your feet giggling by strong male arms – these things still exist somewhere in female nature. So if like Kate in this play you have a sneaky taste for bad-boy Heathcliffs, it can be hard being wooed by a man like Steve: raised largely in a tent on Greenham Common by a fiercely feminist mother. Especially when he proposes on his knees and has to prefix it with an apology for centuries of patriarchy all the way from ancient Egypt to modern FGM , by way of footbinding. To which Kate , modern enough in trainers but longing for something more fiercely flavoured, can only say “my feet are fine!”
Yet they’re in love, and the progress of their relationship is charted in 90 minutes from the first fancy-dress party (he is Robin Hood, for eco-feminist reasons as Maid Marian had a sword, she is Wonderwoman). It is often very funny, as she remembers her mother telling her to blot her lipstick carefully and jump into a cloudy spray of perfume, and he can’t even bring himself to sort out her Google maps for her because it would be patronizing. He runs a bakery, she can’t cook; he meticulously asks “may I kiss you? Your collarbone? your shoulder” and is disappointed that she is not “up for explicit verbal consent”. She, unforgivably but in one of their worst moments, even mutters that she would lie him “a bit more rapey”. Oh dear. Off he goes.
It all works out fine in the end, by way of not one but two weddings, both equally disastrously disrupted. Matthew Lloyd directs, and Tom Berish (gorgeously innocent-eyed) and Sarah Daykin adeptly change costumes at speed to play the two lovers, plus her refugee Jewish father who thinks it’s all nonsense, and his Greenham Scottish mother; less successfully (because it can get momentarily muddled) he becomes her former lover, and boss, a randy editor, and she stands in for the appalling butch-bitch Carina, his hyper-PC girlfriend who hates fiction, and mystery, and romance and thinks love can flourish only on “shared ideas”.
.But when I say momentarily muddled, I mean just that. It’s fine. But worth saying that Samantha Ellis’ spirited writing, and her sharp perception of the absurdities of the day, deserve fuller casts and bigger spaces.
box office www.arcolatheatre.com 020 7503 1646 to 1 October