The TheatreguideLondon Review
Bush Theatre Spring 2012
This may be the year of plays about the limited imaginations and ambitions of working class characters and their resentment of those who reach a little further.
Following David Eldridge's In Basildon at the Royal Court, Lee Mattinson shows us how inherited definitions of marriage, happiness and the woman's role leave even 21st-century young women fighting for the slightest deviation from their mothers', grandmothers' and great-grandmothers' restrictive prejudices.
Mattinson's play is frequently very funny and just as frequently harrowing, and if his message occasionally forces him into easy gags and stereotypes of characterisation, his point does get made.
Mattinson takes us, not in chronological order, through four generations of women who return regularly to a Butlins holiday camp (in itself a superb symbol of limited ambition). We start in the present, move backwards twice and then return to the present, with the chronologically earliest scene, in 1961, showing a mother forcing her pregnant daughter to marry the nearest available man on the assumption that, since happy marriages don't exist, an unhappy marriage that saves her from shame is the best thing on offer.
In 1996 that bride's daughter enrages her mother and sister by wanting a quiet drink with friends on the eve of her own wedding rather than the traditional bawdy and drunken hen party. She has already alienated them by having the audacity to pursue a profession as an accountant, and breaks even further by criticising her sister's attempt to force her mousy teenage daughter into a sexpot image so she can catch a man as she is supposed to.
These backstories are framed by scenes in the present, as the 1961 bride attempts to celebrate her seventieth birthday. The accountant daughter/sister remains banished, the mousy granddaughter is unhappily married, and her sister, who has fully embraced the female image taught by her mother, is confused because it isn't bringing her happiness either.
There's a lot of laugh-out-loud humour along the way, much of it generated by the bawdy daughter/mother fully committed to – or trapped in – the limited definition of how much happiness, and of what sort, a woman should be satisfied with. Actress Monica Dolan successfully walks the tightrope between being a figure of innocent fun and a monster, and she also doubles chillingly as her closed-minded grandmother in the 1961 scene.
Laura Elphinstone makes us believe in the bullied daughter who instinctively knows that her mother's image of what her life should be like is wrong but must struggle to imagine an alternative, and Robyn Addison touchingly shows us her more conventional sister just beginning to see the cracks in her inherited self-image. Gillian Hanna as the bride/grandmother and Sian Brecklin as the accountant daughter/sister/aunt each have slightly easier roles, as their characters are fully formed and somewhat static, but they play them well.
Director Madani Younis doesn't always make clear where we are in time or what the characters' ages are, but he does bring out all the humour and pathos of the play, along with the actors' uniformly fine performances, and Chalet Lines is a fine introduction to his new role as the Bush's Artistic Director.
Review - Chalet Lines - Bush Theatre 2012
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