The Theatreguide.London Review
Royal Court Theatre Winter 2015-2016
Almost fifty years into the modern feminist era its holy grail, Having It All, is as elusive and illusory as ever, says this powerful new play by Penelope Skinner, in a production that is also the showcase for the craft and artistry of a brilliant actress.
The title character seems to Have It All – a good job that brings her personal satisfaction as well as money and prestige, a loving husband and daughters who are no more neurotic than comes with being young. And then it all begins to crumble, in ways that make her wonder how solid any of it ever was.
As marketing manager for a cosmetic company, Linda is most proud of a campaign that encouraged young women to make the most of what they had rather than aspiring to media definitions of beauty, and she now proposes to do the same for older women.
But when the company decides to revert to a more conventional look-like-a-model sales pitch, Linda can't accept what she sees as a bad idea, and a darker side to her success becomes apparent.
Total dedication to to her visions and goals brought with it an inability to even consider that others might be right, and now she fights against the corporate decision in ways that make her a liability.
Meanwhile we begin to see that the most she was ever able to offer her troubled daughters was 'I did it and so can you' without the realisation that they might not have her confidence or might have problems her way couldn't help, and also that being married to such a powerhouse might be wearing on her husband.
So the qualities that have made Linda a success carry within them the seeds of her downfall – aided significantly, it must be acknowledged, by the ambitions, venality and simple nastiness of some of her co-workers.
The telling of this harrowing tale does involve a few predictable plot twists, mechanical coincidences and stock characters, but even if you notice them they do not significantly distract from the seriousness of the central message and the emotional depth of the central characterisation.
And therein lies the second glory of this production. When the original actress cast as Linda had to withdraw, Noma Dumzweni stepped in just days before the first preview.
You might expect under the circumstances that she could be able to learn the lines quickly but would have to walk through the role while trying to find the psychology and emotions.
But by Press Night this remarkable actress, although still relying on a discretely carried script for some of the more complex scenes and speeches, delivered as fully developed, believable and sympathetic a character as if she had been working on her for months.
I have no doubt that director Michael Longhurst and the rest of the cast worked intensely with her and share some of the credit for the accomplishment, and it may be that supporting her so generously is one reason nobody else in the cast makes much of an impression.
But the glory of the night is shared by two – playwright Penelope Skinner for inventing the character and her story, and Noma Dumezweni for bringing her so quickly and fully to life.
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