“After four movies, three concerts, and two-and-a-half museums, you sleep with him. On the stereo you play your favourite harp and oboe music. He tells you his wife’s name.”
It’s a long quote to start off a review with I know, but it made me chuckle for ages and it is still raising a smile now as I look at it. This marked my first visit to Notting Hill’s Gate Theatre, a tiny 70 seater above a pub but with an impressive reputation for attracting talent. Based on a short story by Lorrie Moore, How To Be An Other Woman is about Charlene, a young New Yorker who falls into an affair with a man who happens to be married and despite her best intentions, she finds herself fulfilling all of the clichés around being a mistress.
The story reads as a set of instructions and so lends itself quite well to being acted out, but in Natalie Abrahami’s adaptation, the character of Charlene seems to be used as an everywoman figure, rather than telling the story of an individual, as we start off seeing four shop assistants who then take us through the play. Morris’ writing is wry and funny and if I say it reminds me of early episodes of Sex and the City, then I mean it as a compliment, this is Carrie before you wanted to slap her. There’s a pleasing briskness to proceedings, very little maudlin soul-searching but rather a self-awareness to the protagonist who despises her behaviour even as she does it.
The cast of four cover all the characters and even rotate playing Charlene and her lover, the balletic changing into the beige raincoat that marked an actress becoming Charlene was just lovely and I was a little disappointed when they stopped doing it in the middle of the play. The use of movement and dance was mostly effective, though the mix of choreographed routines and more expressive movement didn’t always work for me (I liked the ‘putting on the coat’ move, I did not care for ‘expressive climbing into bed’), but most crucially, in the brilliant montage of cheesy dance moves at the New Year’s Eve party, the running man was omitted: unforgivable!
Fresh from the triumphant run of After the Dance, Faye Castelow impressed here, especially in her narrating role as she does wry humour extremely well; Cath Whitefield was probably the best at slipping into the role of the male lover disturbingly convincing at times and Samantha Pearl was also strong. Unfortunately, Ony Uhiara has lost her voice so whilst she was onstage acting, her lines were being read in for her which was the first time I have actually seen that happen so it took a little getting used to.
As a preview, it seemed in very good shape already, but it felt like the ending could use some work, tightening it up to provide a more definitive conclusion. Altogether though, it was quite a nifty little piece, imaginatively staged and attractively presented and a good introduction to a new venue which I will have to add my list of ones to keep an eye on.
Running time: 1 hour (no interval)
Programme cost: free, but it doesn’t look or feel it, most impressive.
Booking until: 2nd October