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A CurtainUp London Review
Dusa, Fish, Stas and Vi
Dusa (Sophie Scott) is just getting divorced when her husband snatches their children and takes them abroad which brings her back to stay in the flat with her friend Fish. Stas (Emily Dobbs), short for Anastasia, intends to read Marine Biology in Hawaii and has an unconventional way of raising the funding. Vi (Helena Johnson) is all over the place, younger than the others, a stray, she is anorexic and addicted to yoga, she refuses to eat and is frankly odd as the play opens.
Katie Beltman's design is loud, a celebration of awful wall paper, 1960s orange, browns and greens of the flat that they all share. A sofa converts into a double bed to put up Dusa. The opening plot dynamic, which binds the women, is the search for Dusa's children without any money for lawyers or detectives. While the intellectual Fish provides moral support, Vi dives into Stas' stash of money and hands some to Dusa.
The clever aspect of this feminist play is that it looks at gender politics and women's issues through the stories of these women. It is being revived at the moment to commemorate the centenary of the death of Emily Wilding Davison, a suffragette who died when she threw herself in front of the King's horse on Derby Day in 1913. Imprisoned on nine occasions for her cause, Davison had been force fed 49 times. Fish, an intelligent woman is stuck mentally in a relationship that is over, whilst at the same time working nationally to liberate women, at a personal level she is in an emotional cul de sac. Dusa is battling the legal system and the lack of extradition treaties with countries overseas in a custody dispute. Stas is employed in the oldest profession to raise money for higher education. Vi is in the grips of a body dysmorphic disease.
Cleverly cast, the stories are involving and some of the scenarios full of joy and sisterhood. Stas is the provider, either from her work or by shoplifting whatever they need. There is a great scene when she steals a book about the 1920s fashion designer Paul Poiret to cheer up Dusa and comes home with shimmering fabrics to recreate his designs and wine to lift their mood. Vi will be hospitalised with surprising results, especially as she returns as a domestic goddess with a solid work ethic.
I cannot fault the performances. Sophie Scott conveying Dusa's despair at the loss of her children, Olivia Poulet as the capable, bright Fish, destroyed by a man who has moved on, Helena Johnson's quirkiness as Vi comes back to the real world and perhaps, best of all, Emily Dobbs' charming matter of fact rebellion and scientific knowledge as she finds a way out of the life of a farmer's daughter.
This is a super play with a bitter ending getting a magnificent production. Neil McPherson would be top of my shortlist for the candidates to replace Nicholas Hytner as Artistic Director at the National Theatre. Who else has such a consistently reliable eye for a good but neglected play and the ability to give it a great production?
Retold by Tina Packer of Shakespeare & Co.
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