Black Chiffon, White Bear Theatre, London

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The Independent Culture

Lesley Storm – the rather racy pseudonym of the Scots-born writer Mabel Margaret Clark (1903 – 1975) - has long since dropped off the theatrical radar.

Yet Tough Theatre have exhumed one of Storm’s biggest stage hits, Black Chiffon,which ran for 416 performances in 1949. Revived at the White Bear in a loving, well-cast production, it emerges as a flawed, but fascinating glimpse of what feminism looked like in the middlebrow drama of the time.

The play focuses on the fate of Alicia Christie, a well-to-do Chelsea wife and mother, and how she copes with the imminent nuptials of her beloved son, Roy (an engaging Nick Lawson). Roy’s father’s long spells abroad during his childhood threw him into a stiflingly close relationship with Alicia and turned him into the abused object of twisted paternal jealousy. The prospective in-laws (colonial types whom she has never met) unexpectedly arrive from India and, while arranging a dinner party for them, Alicia goes missing, only to return with news that leaves husband (Keith Chanter), Roy and daughter (Charlotte Powell) aghast. She has been charged with trying to shoplift a black chiffon nightdress. So far, so very Freudian – an impression not mitigated when it’s revealed that the fiancée was wearing just such an item when Alicia recently sleep walked into her bedroom. The horrified family call in a psychiatric doctor.

As the accused heroine, Maggie Daniels gives a subtle, sensitive performance. Under probing cross-examination, she admits that the theft was a rebellion against a life spent crushed between son and husband, but she insists on pleading guilty rather than mount a defence that would expose her relationship with Roy to imputations of unnaturalness. But what on earth will those colonial in-laws think? One thing’s for sure – the blushing bride won’t be wearing black chiffon on her unlikely wedding night.

To 30 Jan (www.whitebeartheatre.co.uk)

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