Loyal Women, Royal Court Theatre, London
Thursday 13 November 2003
In 'Loyal Women', Gary Mitchell has a powerful and potentially devastating theme. Other playwrights, notably Martin McDonagh, have suggested that the attraction of the IRA could be the feeling of masculinity it confers on men who can make up, with violence and rhetoric, their sexual and emotional failings. In this play, the Women's Ulster Defence Association likewise compensates for vanishing family and social ties.
On a council estate where the only occupations seem to be TV-watching, sex, drink and assault, Brenda battles to keep her demoralised household going. She has kicked out her ex-convict husband, Terry, after his drunken fling, but she still looks after his bedridden mother. To Brenda's teenage daughter, Jenny, membership of the WUDA offers a diversion from caring - when she can be bothered - for her baby.
Gossiping about neighbours with suspected Catholic sympathies and planning reprisals, the women achieve a closeness and sense of purpose absent from the rest of their lives. But, in the weeks before Christmas, the nature of their activity breeds distrust. Brenda is forced to become treasurer of the local WUDA branch because anyone who volunteers for the job is suspected of embezzlement. Maureen, the head of the group, wants to hand over her job to Brenda; another woman, furious at being passed over, becomes angrier when told why. What seems to be an alternative family is, in reality, a more dangerous duplicate.
Josie Rourke's cast - particularly Michelle Fairley as Brenda, Lisa Hogg as Jenny and Clare Cathcart as Brenda's rival - are impeccable in their bitter and defeated demeanour. But the production lacks that vital theatrical spark that goes beyond realism, a deficiency most obvious in the writing. Real-life WUDA women may well express themselves in soap-opera clichés, but that's no excuse for Mitchell to do so. There were no giggles on the first night, but I think a less partisan audience will be amused when Brenda says, in a lull during the shouting, "This isn't a good time for me.".
And the play is frequently confusing on major matters. We don't know how long Terry has been out of prison (an important plot point), or what Brenda feels about him. The conflicting emotions she avows seem implausible, as do the reason for his imprisonment and his explanation of it.
Loyal Women has a nice sound effect - the scenes begin with Christmas carols that fade into martial music - but the verbal music of the play is too often off-key and out of tune.
To 13 December (020-7565 5000)
Game of Thrones
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Huawei Mate S and Huawei Watch: new products take on iPhone 6 Plus and Apple Watch
- 2 More than 11,000 Icelanders offer to house Syrian refugees to help European crisis
- 3 If these extraordinarily powerful images of a dead Syrian child washed up on a beach don't change Europe's attitude to refugees, what will?
- 4 Senior British politicians tell David Cameron: When dead children are being washed up on beaches – it's time to act
- 5 German police forced to ask public to stop bringing donations for refugees arriving by train
The real reason Eddie Redmayne was cast as a trans woman in The Danish Girl
JK Rowling announces Harry Potter's son is starting at Hogwarts
Idris Elba is ‘too street’ to play 007, says James Bond author
Akram Khan: Choreographer says dance is 'as important as maths and being a doctor'
Common words you're probably misusing: From 'enormity' to 'ultimately', 'gambit' to 'fortuitous'
Climate change: 2015 will be the hottest year on record 'by a mile', experts say
Senior British politicians tell David Cameron: When dead children are being washed up on beaches – it's time to act
Jeremy Corbyn calls Osama bin Laden's killing a 'tragedy' - but was it taken out of context?
If these extraordinarily powerful images of a dead Syrian child washed up on a beach don't change Europe's attitude to refugees, what will?
If you're not already angry about the refugee crisis, here's a history lesson to remind you why you really should be
Theresa May says migrants should be banned from entering the UK unless they have jobs lined up