John Bowles is a respected tv presenter, theatre and concert performer.
The Donmar’s front door was pad-locked, we were led across the street to a ‘club’ to pick up the tickets and there we had a drink. The pre-show announcements started, in a stern tone, and we were then all sent back across the road, but this time, herded through the fire exit, and ordered to follow the white line or red line into the theatre, depending on whether you were seated upstairs or down.
I got it. I understood the reason for the ushers dressed in guard uniforms; the pad-locked door and the stark fire escape were meant to set the tone for the play to follow. The play is set in a prison. The space was as one would expect it to be, stark, grey, with guards watching on behind glass. What I didn’t understand was why I was asked to sit in the most uncomfortable plastic chair for more than two hours without an interval. It may seem trivial, but I have to stress, my discomfort seriously impeded my concentration, and with the myriad of accents on the stage, good concentration is an asset. The normal seating had been removed to fill the place with drab, grey plastic chairs, the type of which I used to sit on in primary school assembly. The seating was meant to further emphasise the bleakness of the set. Really?
Having read a lot about this production, my expectations were high, and I’m not quite sure what all the hype is about. The cast, led by Harriet Walter, are tremendous. The design is very effective and the direction by Phyllida Lloyd is bold. The play flows like a gym class, it’s physical, actors moving and dodging, all energy and menace.
I’m just not quite sure why it is best served as an ‘all-female’ cast or why the prison setting is a brilliant idea. I very much enjoyed hearing young, energetic, female voices reciting these precious lines and perhaps that is the point. As an exercise in letting the girls get down and dirty, it’s interesting. I really enjoy it when theatre insists that I suspend reality and this production requires it. There are many parts to this production to like, but not as a whole. I was left nursing a bad back.