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)
Art Somebody is going around telling people he's Banksy - but it isn't the street artist
Maisie Williams single-handedly rises to the challengeTV
Academy criticised after no non-white actors nominated
tvAn expose of hooliganism masquerading as an ideological battle
artLee Hadwin can't draw when he's awake, but by night he's an artist
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 The BBC has just done more to eradicate ‘terrorism’ than all our wars since 9/11
- 2 Saudi preacher who 'raped and tortured' his five -year-old daughter to death is released after paying 'blood money'
- 3 Mystery man who gave mum heart-warming note on train 'wanted to put a smile on her face'
- 4 Michelle Obama highlights harsh restrictions faced by Saudi women after meeting King Salman without wearing a headscarf
- 5 Grumpy Roald Dahl letter warning student to 'eschew beastly adjectives' rediscovered after 35 years
Game of Thrones season 5: Grey Worm actor Jacob Anderson is all for more male nudity – as long as it’s not him
Heavy metal producer's corpse to be mutilated by models as per his dying wish
The Jump 2015 line-up: Joey Essex, Phil Tufnell, Heather Mills and co take to the slopes
Costa Book Awards 2015: H is for Hawk named book of the year
New Ghostbusters movie lands all-female cast with Kristen Wiig, Melissa McCarthy, Kate McKinnon and Leslie Jones
'We would evict Queen from Buckingham Palace and allocate her council house,' say Greens
French court convicts three over homophobic tweets, in case hailed as a 'significant victory' by LGBT rights campaigners
Greece elections: Syriza and EU on collision course after election win for left-wing party
British Muslim school children suffering a backlash of abuse following Paris attacks
British grandmother Lindsay Sandiford faces execution by firing squad in Indonesia
Liberal Democrat minister defends comments suggesting immigration causes pub closures