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Women of Twilight @ Pleasance Theatre

| Culture, Hidden London, Theatre, Venues | 18/04/2014

Sally Mortemore and Claire Louise Amias
Sally Mortemore and Claire Louise Amias

A fun night out ‘Women of Twilight’ is not. It is a truly great evening of theatre at a commendable (and welcoming) venue. If Sylvia Rayman’s play seems long-overlooked, in some ways it’s easy to understand why. The taboo of illegitimacy in post-war England seems not only reprehensible but through contemporary eyes is like visiting an alien land. Director Jonathan Rigby refers to “the continued relevance of the play…” as I imagine both at home and abroad, and considers that “maybe it’s appropriate to revive a play written during the early years of the Welfare State at a time when strenuous efforts are being made to dismantle it…” Rigby’s current production, at the roomy and comfortable Pleasance Theatre, is more than worth a revisit.

Despite its grim subject matter it’s a delight to watch from start to finish due to the delicate and careful performances. There are many interesting interactions caused by clashes of fortune and class. It’s a mishmash of characters brought together by same need but different circumstance. The all-female ensemble is pleasingly varied, and the broad age range aptly matches the quietly dynamic script. Christine, one of the central heroines, lovingly ennobled by the talented Elizabeth Donnelly, first appears as a flower about to be crushed.

Women of Twilight

Elizabeth Donnelly and Vanessa Russell

The school-mistressy landlady would be a cross-breed of the Wicked Witch of the West and Cruella de Vil but this is no panto. Chillingly embodied by the otherwise delectable Sally Mortemore, hers is quite a performance. Clearly chasing some lost need for control, her nastiness strains under the weight of the cloak of kindness. “You girls choose to live like animals!” she throws at her tenants. Truth is that’s how she perceives them, and how she takes her pleasure, prodding caged creatures with a stick. Her housemaid perhaps unsurprisingly has learning difficulties, and Emma Reade-Davies rises to the challenge with empathy and sensitivity. Camaraderie prevails, not least personified in the charming and adept acting of Francesca Anderson as Olga. Veronica, a deb down on her luck, adds another angle amidst the agony. In Amy Comper’s capable hands we warm to her as the narrative progresses.

The highly creditable cast each lend equal weight and support to this prestige production. Christie Banks offers a great turn as Molly, as does Virge Gilchrist as the nurse. Ailsa Ilott and Vanessa Russell are superb sparing partners, and Emma Spearing shines as Laura. Then there’s the dour, sour (for good reason) blonde, Vivianne. Claire Louise Amias’ underplaying is masterful. She possesses the just-right amount of knowingness – a touch of Raquel fending-off Del Boy – with an underlying resentment bleeding through. Vivianne has far, far more to deal with than being in love with a rogue. Amias deserves recognition for one of the most affecting female portrayals you will see anywhere on the London fringe.

‘Women of Twilight’ is intense and at times suffocating; internal and internalised. Bleak, deep and dark, and only gets more so. Yet you can’t help but attach yourself to all of the posse, good or bad, as you are drawn along by their fate. The clever and beautiful ending, loose ends knitting together, is, typically, both satisfying and heart-rending.

Now showing until April 27

Designer: Olivia Knight // Lighting designer: Rachael Hewer // Sound designer: Martin Brady

The Pleasance is easily accessible via Caledonian Road Tube. Left from the station, left into North Road, five minutes walk. It boasts an amenable and spacious bar, staffed by a team of friendly faces.

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