Two Women, Theatre Royal, Stratford East, London
Women on the verge of cliché
Tuesday 02 March 2010
Even by the standards of soap-opera weddings, Susan Dalston's is a notable one. As her mother shrieks about effing this and that, the pregnant bride's father and her fiancé, Barry, arrive at the church late, high-spirited and dishevelled. After vows are exchanged, Susan falls as Barry grabs her bottom, and dad, thinking he has pushed her, starts a punch-up. The priest, a braver man than any of the local publicans (Barry and dad are extortionists), chucks them out and says they're banned. The ceremony is a model of decorum next to the reception.
The standards of soap, not theatre, are the ones to apply, but not because most of the cast are alumni of EastEnders. The novelist Martina Cole, whose oeuvre has sold more than eight million copies, has an imagination bounded by bad TV, crime news, and confession magazines and a vocabulary that would not tax speakers of pidgin (foul-mouthed ones, that is: one word appears so frequently that Cole has probably had a key for it fitted to her computer). This adaptation, by Patrick Prior, lurches from cliché to banality as it alternates past scenes of Barry's violence and infidelity with present ones, in prison, where Susan has been sent after a conviction for hammering Barry's face in – a fact her cellmate rather tactlessly ignores by responding to one of Susan's remarks with "You've hit the nail on the head!" Susan is repeatedly praised as a good mother, though her inertia is responsible for her husband's rape of their 14-year-old daughter; nor is society indicted for its neglect and condescension, which are also responsible for the characters' low expectations, typified by Barry's awe at his new girlfriend: "You even use a napkin when you eat a sandwich. It's like someone's opened up a door to a whole new world for me."
Ryan Romain's production is full of signs and walls that are raised and lowered, sometimes so briskly that they bounce. Except for Alison Newman's loyal best friend, however, the performances, are bereft of bounce, as wooden and phlegmatic as the fighting. Cathy Murphy's Susan is so terrified when held in a choke-hold by a knife-wielding maniac that she uses both hands to adjust the hem of her pullover.
The audience's enthusiasm was a playwright's dream, and its composition – old, young, black, white – a politician's. But this play tells them, and not very well, nothing they don't already know. Its title brings to mind another story about the rape of a child, but that film – and, even more, Alberto Moravia's superb novel – is also about a poor woman's awakening from pettiness and ignorance to the suffering and beauty of a wider world. Don't the Stratford theatregoers deserve as much?
To 20 March (020 8534 0310)
game of thrones reviewWarning: spoilers
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 'Fire at every person you see': Israeli soldiers reveal they were ordered to shoot to kill in Gaza – even if the targets may have been civilians
- 2 Italian police 'reveal' what Jesus looked like as a young boy
- 3 General Election 2015: 14-year-old boy asks Nick Clegg – 'can you kill Katie Hopkins?'
- 4 Garland shooting: Isis claims attack on Prophet Mohamed cartoon contest in Texas as its first action on US soil
- 5 Met Gala 2015: Beyoncé manages to out-skimp Rihanna, Miley and Kim Kardashian combined with near-naked ensemble
Top Gear: Jodie Kidd, Philip Glenister and Guy Martin 'in advanced talks' to join show
Jorge Luis Borges fan brings his infinite library to life online
Game of Thrones, season 5 episode 4, review: Sansa in danger of becoming another footnote in Westeros' bloody history
The highly NSFW poster for Gaspar Noé's Love makes Nymphomaniac look like 50 Shades
Trailer for Robin Williams' last film Absolutely Anything starring Simon Pegg released
In defence of liberal democracy
Over 50,000 families shipped out of London boroughs in the past three years due to welfare cuts and soaring rents
EU asylum policy is 'a direct threat to our civilisation', says Nigel Farage
The Rothschild Libel: Why has it taken 200 years for an anti-Semitic slur that emerged from the Battle of Waterloo to be dismissed?
General Election 2015: UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power, Labour warns
General election live: SNP suspends two members for disrupting Labour rally