Directed by Jonathan Rigby
Pros: Solid, gritty drama and a talented company of actresses.
Cons: The subject may seem an unlikely source of entertainment for some.
Our Verdict: This lost play is definitely worthy of revival and it deserves wider exposure. Come on West End theatre producers!
|Courtesy of White Bear Theatre Club
It was with mixed feelings that I made my way to the White Bear Theatre
in Kennington to see Women of Twilight
. I was feeling tired and was praying I wouldn’t doze off and start snoring. On the other hand I was looking forward to seeing Madeline Smith perform. I took my seat in the front row of the two L-shaped rows of seats. I needn’t have worried though. I was riveted from the start and snoozing through this drama would have been impossible.
Before the production began we were advised that Madeline Smith had bowed out due to illness and her role would be played by Sally Mortemore. The entire story is set in the living room of a house owned by Helen ‘Nelly’ Alistair (Mortemore) in or near London in 1951. She rents accommodation to unmarried mothers at a time when such women were socially stigmatised and because of this she can charge a premium for shameful conditions and still have no shortage of tenants.
The arrival of Christine, played by Elizabeth Donnelly, into the household also serves as our introduction to the characters and the set up. She is horrified when she realises that her rent money only provides a bed in the living room alongside Vivianne, played by Claire Louise Amias; a prickly young woman whose boyfriend is on trial for murder. Chris explains to Viv that her situation is only temporary until her husband returns from working in America but Viv has heard it all before. A girl arrive with her baby, planning on a brief stay until they can get themselves sorted, but gradually hope fades and is replaced with harsh reality.
We gradually meet the other tenants and discover how they have all arrived here. Through their chats and arguments we see how Mrs Alistair, ably assisted by Jess (Vanessa Russell), runs the household with maximum profits and minimum outlay. Jess bridges the gap between the landlady and the girls; she’s young and one of them but works the system to her own advantage by being in cahoots with Nelly. The other vital piece of the jigsaw is Sal played brilliantly by Emma Reade-Davies. Being physically and mentally impaired makes her an undesirable in the 1950s but Nelly uses her as slave labour to look after all the babies and toddlers in the house.
We follow the women through their trials and tribulations, as they try and take control of their fate. It gives a shiver down the spine to think that this was a mere sixty years ago. Women who fell pregnant by rape, ignorance or love were judged and cast out by a hostile society. They had to survive as best they could but in doing so often became unknowing victims for those who could profit from their misfortune. Fertility treatment was yet to be discovered and childless couples only had adoption to fall back on. And as with most things there was always a black market available at a price.
The all-female cast provide an exceptional ensemble performance of this piece. Mortemore has to be forgiven for carrying a discreet clipboard with prompt notes due to stepping into the breach and allowing the show to go on.
I was enthralled throughout and applauded the cast with a lump in my throat and a tear in my ear. A gentleman seated behind me made a swift exit after what sounded like a failing attempt to hide his emotions. I’d love to see this play gain fresh recognition. In the meantime try to catch it while it’s showing at the White Bear.
Please feel free to leave your thoughts and opinions in the comments section below!
Women of Twilight runs at White Bear Theatre Club until 20th October 2013.
Box Office: 0844 8700 887 or book online at