Review: Purge, Arcola

“Our country doesn’t exist any more”

Despite the riches on offer on the multitude of stages across London, contemporary European theatre is something that is all too rarely seen here. But theatres like East London’s Arcola and companies like Borealis (who mounted 8 Women at the Southwark Playhouse last year) are trying to redress that balance and have most definitely come up trumps with this excoriating piece of drama. Written by Finnish-Estonian Sofi Oksanen and latterly adapted into a hugely successful novel, Purge has an epic scope – weaving together the stories of two women, Aliide and Zara, with the troubled history of post-WWII Estonia and the struggles and compromises made by a people living under occupation.

It is rarely easy viewing, violence is presented matter-of-factly and none of these unpalatable truths are sugar-coated. Zara is a prostitute who has murdered her pimp and is on the run from gangsters, the much older Aliide is living in seclusion out in rural Estonia trying to keep the past at bay and reluctantly offers the younger woman sanctuary. And as they gingerly step around each other and slowly reveal their hidden stories – the focus being on Aliide’s extraordinary history – the ramifications of their decisions become clearer as the realisation of a strange connection comes hand in hand with a real danger knocking at the door. Continue reading “Review: Purge, Arcola”

Review: Fen, Finborough

“Give me back my hoe and get out of here”

The Finborough Theatre’s new season is entitled In Their Place, focusing the next three months on women playwrights and featuring as its opening production, the first London revival of Caryl Churchill’s 1983 play Fen. Set in a poor East Anglian farming community, the play looks at what people, women in particular, expect from life and the realities of what that life actually offers them. By looking at different generations of women, the possibilities of change are revealed but their unlikeliness never hidden as we see that it is external factors beyond their control that affect them the most, whether it is foreign corporations buying up the land or Margaret Thatcher’s draconian policies.

The cast of six cover over 20 roles as the drudgery of a menial life in an impoverished rural setting is portrayed through a set of short scenes with various stories and characters fading in and out of focus with most attention being paid to the character of Val, a woman torn between her love for a man and her two children and ostracised as she chooses the former over the latter. Katharine Burford’s performance was powerful but the tendency to the non-naturalistic meant that I wasn’t quite convinced of the depth of passion with Alex Beckett’s Frank. Elsewhere there was great work throughout the ensemble who were all given opportunities to stretch their range whilst bringing so many different aspects of this community to life, Nicola Harrison in particular shone as a vindictive stepmother and the sweetly innocent young Deb and Rosie Thomson was also excellent, delineating all of her roles clearly yet moving in all of them. Continue reading “Review: Fen, Finborough”

Review: Her Naked Skin, National Theatre

Much of the talk about Rebecca Lenkiewicz’s new play Her Naked Skin has focused on the rather shameful fact that it is the first play by a female writer to be staged on the main Olivier stage at the National Theatre. Which whilst true and a definite achievement in itself, should not detract from the fact that this is a really rather sensationally good play.

Set in the Suffragette Movement in London in 1913 with excitement in the air as victory can be tasted, but times have never been more frenzied or dangerous as militant tendencies are at their strongest and many women are experiencing jail time on a regular basis. Lenkiewicz pitches the continuance of this struggle against the more personal story of Lady Celia Cain, bored in life and with her traditional marriage and family, who launches into a passionate lesbian love affair with a much younger, much more lower-class seamstress whom she shares a cell with and soon much more. As the affair hots up, so too does the political climate as emancipation comes closer to becoming a reality. Continue reading “Review: Her Naked Skin, National Theatre”