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Knickers To That!, Etcetera Theatre – Review

Simone Watson
Directed by Simone Watson
★★★★

Pros: An accessible play with engaging characters and recognisable scenarios.

Cons: While there are a number of amusing scenes, those looking for escapism probably won’t find it here.

Our Verdict: Lightning in a bottle: life in inner London captured in all its complexity.

Courtesy of etceteratheatre.com

With the title Knickers To That!, you would be forgiven for thinking that this play might be a farce or not have dramatic gravitas. This is far from the case in Simone Watson’s chronicle of 21st century London. ‘Kitchen sink’ dramas traditionally – with the exception of perhaps Ealing Studio’s It Always Rains On Sunday – have been from a male perspective, but Knickers To That! is heavily weighted to the female experience, especially women in their twenties. In this sense, it is not unlike Pam Gem’s Dusa, Fish, Stas and VI, which in the 1970s looked at four young women and the strands of their relationships.

We’re introduced to best friends Naomi (Chantelle Scantlebury) and Genna (Alex Marie Johnson), two young women in east London. Naomi has a three-year-old son from a relationship with her former boyfriend, Derek (Dwayne Gumbs). Though Naomi is no longer in a relationship with Derek, because she grew up without a father figure, she’s keen to keep in contact with Derek so that her son doesn’t have to go what she went through. Genna, meanwhile, has recently graduated from university, but her own frustration to find a job is compounded by duress from her mother, Rochelle (Emma Nanson), who harps on about watching her weight so that she would be able to get a boyfriend.

In some ways, Rochelle reminded me of Bel’s mother, Verda, from the BBC’s The Hour, who placed paramount importance on looking attractive for men. That programme was set in the 1950s, but the fact that in today’s world, the Duchess of Cambridge’s postnatal grey hair dominates newspaper shows how little has changed in the last 50 years when it comes to the pursuit of physical beauty. Nanson plays Rochelle with humour as well as an air of absent-mindedness; her suggestion of following the example Lily Allen’s song The Fear song is met with horror and disdain by her daughter. Rochelle’s alcohol is later used by others as a coping mechanism to hide deep-rooted unhappiness, but this pattern of behaviour proves devastating for all concerned.

Scantlebury and Johnson play the respective friends with verve and have good chemistry together. Derek has serious anger management issues, but Gumbs manages (in no small part to Watson’s writing) to unearth other facets that hint at a more rounded human being. His frustration at not being able to get a job affects his own self-esteem and how he carries himself with others.

What Watson has achieved is that rare thing: a play that is accessible for regular theatregoers and those who are not. In my mind, what set this apart from other fare I’ve recently seen is that it had a distinct voice, a fire in the writing to tell the warts-and-all plight of ordinary people.

Please feel free to leave your thoughts and opinions in the comments section below!

Knickers To That! runs at Etcetera Theatre until 24th November 2013.
Box Office: 020 7482 4857 or book online at http://www.etceteratheatre.com.

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