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The Theatreguide.London Review

The Flannelettes
King's Head Theatre   Spring 2015

Brenda runs a battered women's shelter in a Yorkshire town, offering unjudgemental refuge and counselling to both women breaking away from abusive husbands and those tempted to return to them. 

She is also temporarily host to her niece Delie, a twenty-two-year-old with a child's mental age. Delie's one pleasure is fronting (with whoever she can recruit as backup singers) the Flannelettes, an amateur tribute act singing Motown girl group hits, and rehearsals and performances punctuate the action of Richard Cameron's new play.

In the course of the play Brenda will cope with the problems of a couple of her residents, the discovery that vulnerable Delie is being sexually abused, and the realisation of the extent to which entrenched sexism and corruption pervade even her sympathetic supporters among the local men. 

There is no questioning the earnestness of Cameron's play or the seriousness of the issues it raises. But it never quite escapes the feeling that it would be more at home in a school auditorium than a fringe theatre, accompanied by a Teachers' Guide for discussion questions ('What are some reasons why Roma would return to her boyfriend?' 'How can vulnerable people like Delie be protected?').

Dramatically, for all the power of the individual stories, the characters are too close to one-dimensional symbols, the two main plot lines (about Delie and the battered women) are never really integrated, and far from offering emotional depth or ironic resonance, the musical numbers play like irrelevant interruptions in the action. 

Director Mike Bradwell has been unable to paper over the cracks in the play's structure or disguise its theatre-for-schools feeling, and he has been only partly successful in guiding his actors to more rounded characterisations than the author offered them. 

Emma Hook sympathetically captures the mix of innocence and petulance in the childlike Delie, but Suzan Sylvester has been given little more than harried concern to play as Brenda. 

Geoff Leesley creates a sympathetic figure but can't make much sense out of a local man who is inexplicably generous and supportive, and other characters either have no clear identity or change personalities from scene to scene to meet the needs of the plot.

Gerald Berkowitz

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Review - The Flannelettes - King's Head Theatre 2015

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