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A CurtainUp London Review
Rapture, Blister, Burn
Gionfriddo's play debates feminist theory in the context of two women who once shared a college room and boyfriend Don Harper (Adam James). Much of the first half feels didactic as Catherine Croll (Emilia Fox), a successful writer and lecturer runs a summer class for women to look at themes such as social media, slasher movies and pornography in the context of women's issues. Her two pupils are Gwen (Emma Fielding), Don's stay at home mother of his two children and who never finished her degree, and Avery Willard, the Harper's baby sitter a 21 year old ball of fire. As the class is held in Catherine's mother's house, there is an opportunity to meet Catherine's mother (Polly Adams) as she brings in the martinis and reflects on the change in attitude towards women over the generations.
Gwen and Catherine role swap; Catherine having Don and the three year old move in with her and her mother while Gwen goes off to live in Catherine's apartment in New York with her teenage son. Catherine is less bothered about Don's lack of ambition and limited bringing home of the bacon as she has an income of her own. She's also more tolerant of his pornography and pizza habits, although longer term he doesn't give her credit for this.
There is much to laugh at including a brilliant unscripted interjection from a woman in the audience on the night I saw, who at a particular twist in the plot exclaimed "What?" loudly. Due credit to the production for suspending disbelief but sadly this contribution from the audience may not be in future airings of the show.
Emilia Fox is very earnest as Catherine in her skin tight trousers and stiletto heels, Adam James is always a delight to watch, here rather feckless and ineffectual, and Emma Fielding's Gwen is wistful as she yearns after what might have been but acerbic as she caustically criticizes Don. The oldest and youngest members of the cast, Polly Adams as Alice and Shannon Tarbet as Avery the student documentary film maker steal the acting highlights and many of the funnier lines.
Jonathan Fensom's sets are indoors and out, of the next door houses with comfortable sofas and swings in the garden. Peter Dubois directed in America and does do here at Hampstead with the all British cast.
Gionfriddo's play balances feminist issues cleverly with each of the women making their life choices in the context of denying or accepting conflicting feminist writing. It makes her play entertaining and informative as women reflect on the impossibility of having it all.
Retold by Tina Packer of Shakespeare & Co.
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