Best wishes – also commiserations – to Kim Cattrall, originally cast in the title role of Penelope Skinner’s new play, who withdrew for health reasons at the last minute. Instead, Noma Dumezweni gets the chance at a brilliantly meaty part and wins huge admiration. Although performing with the script close by, Dumezweni’s is a towering rendition that gets to the nub of Skinner’s grand efforts with precision.
Linda is a woman who has it all: career, kids and “the same size ten dress suit” from 15 years ago. But she’s 55. Employed by the beauty industry, enjoying plenty of predictable irony, Linda isn’t safe, despite her success. It could all be a standard, if satisfying, drama with important issues and depressing topicality. But it’s far from that. Michael Longhurst’s direction is smooth and Es Devlin’s budget-busting set a two-tier rotating triumph, combining work and home, with a moat for extra symbolism. And, excitingly, Skinner takes risks with her script that stops the show being too polished.
For much of the first act, Linda is the only well-rounded presence. Other characters are oddly transparent – a brave move – making them cringe-worthy vehicles for Skinner’s toe-curling humour. The men come off especially badly: a new-age hipster intern (Jaz Deol), insulting boss (Ian Redford) and mid-life crisis husband (Dominic Mafham). Can men really be this crass? Don’t answer. But best of all is Linda’s new rival at work, a younger woman, naturally, who you’ll love to hate, with Amy Beth Hayes’s performance guaranteed to make your blood boil.
It’s when flesh is put on the bones of other roles that the play falters. Mother and daughter relationships are insightfully probed, with clever Shakespearean nods. And as Linda’s daughter’s, Karla Crome and Imogen Byron grow up impressively before our eyes. But by now we just want Linda. It’s her late realisation that she has “ta’en too little care” outside the office, rather than her daughter’s plights (these alone could make another play) that interest. Despite Longhurst’s valiant efforts, searching deeper issues slows the pace too severely. Thankfully, a final flourish of outrage shows Skinner as outlandish once more. She is surely not a writer to be messed with.
Until 9 January 2016
Photos by Johan Persson