A Daughter's A Daughter, Trafalgar Studios, London
Thursday 17 December 2009
It's 1945 and Ann Prentice has had rather a good war, all told. Though she would never admit this, it has given her three years of respite from her massively over-controlling daughter, Sarah, who has been out in Egypt. So it's frightfully awkward that Sarah's return coincides with Ann's intended marriage to a well-meaning widower. Making a very striking stage debut, Honeysuckle Weeks (of Foyle's War fame) brings just the right degree of sulky manipulativeness, combative modernity, and poor little not-so-rich- bitch bleakness to the role of Sarah. All the sporty demobbed young men who people her social world are leaving constricted, unstable Blighty to grow oranges in South Africa or farm the Argentine. Nor will her mother ever find a true mate again, if Sarah has her way.
Who would you say might have written the above? Increasingly, watching Roy Marsden's wonderfully well-acted, witty and wrenching production, I would have hazarded that A Daughter's A Daughter was a hitherto undiscovered collaboration between the J B Priestley of the socially aware "Time" plays, and the Terence Rattigan who understood the secrets of hearts female as well as male. In fact, it's by Agatha Christie, writing under the pseudonym of Mary Westmacott, and because it is based on her own troubled relationship with a daughter, the Christie family are not fond of it and have allowed it to languish after its one-week appearance at the Theatre Royal, Bath in 1956.
All praise, therefore, to this production for so spiritedly proving that there is such compelling life in this acute and caustic study of mother-daughter co-dependency. Jenny Seagrove delivers a nakedly empathetic tour de force as Ann, who evolves from the nervously doting, tightly respectable mother of the first act, into the party-hopping lush she becomes after giving up her fiancé for her daughter.
This is the least sentimental of plays in that it eventually arrives at the conclusion that Ann's supposed self-sacrifice was in fact emotional cowardice about non-maternal love masquerading as virtue. And then, brilliantly, it shows the appalling long-term effects of this on the daughter. The play becomes a Mobius-strip of repeated inter-woven patterns that gradually turns into a tightening garrotte. A real surprise, this piece, and highly recommended.
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