No one could accuse the artistic team at Liverpool's Playhouse and Everyman of timidity. Last month saw Gemma Bodinetz's blistering production of Edward Albee's Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? at the Playhouse. It was typical of the sort of enterpriseBodinetz and Deborah Aydon bring to their programming.
Now comes a new play, perfect for the Everyman space, by Helen Blakeman, born and bred in Liverpool. In her two previous plays, Caravan and Normal, Blakeman's skill in revealing character detail within a bigger social picture was recognised with major awards, while her drama Pleasureland was a TV hit.
Drawing on her childhood experience of female morris-dancing, Blakeman knows all about this custom, but The Morris is as much about bickering, bonding and fierce rivalry between women. The setting is a field near Prestatyn. The rapidly disintegrating Our Lady All Angels' Morris Dancing Troupe are defending their championship. More about dirty nappies than dirty tricks, of a world of "shit and nits", it's very much a women's thing. And, with these women, there's little evidence of the polished execution, precision and symmetry required.
A video sequence, taped applause and bursts of cheering and music create atmosphere. Full marks to director Indhu Rubasingham and designer Mike Britton for conveying an entire troupe with a cast of just five. Blakeman puts the lives of decent Margy, raucous Lily, tarty Sharon, new mum Donna and teenage Jamie-Lee under scrutiny in the forced intimacy of their camp, amid the rising tensions of the contest.
There's little substance to the story. Donna delivers a speech about the emotional captivity of motherhood, Sharon despairs about the miserable life she feels trapped in, and Jamie-Lee makes a bid for freedom from her mother Lily (Tina Malone), whose haranguing would drive anyone away.
Banter becomes personal, wit turns nasty, reason flies, pompoms bristle. It's not an attractive advert for the pastime, although the bus-loads of female morris dancers in the audiencecheered to the rafters.
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