“Rapture, Blister, Burn” at Hampstead Theatre

Exciting American talent comes to the Hampstead Theatre with Gina Gionfriddo’s play Rapture, Blister, Burn, a clever take on the state of feminism that’s filled with insight and fun.

It’s based around middle-aged, successful “sexy scholar” Catherine, a demanding role for the spirited Emilia Fox, who returns to her home town to look after her mother. Catherine reconnects with old friends from Grad School, Gwen and Don, who married and settled down when she left town, and their narrow academic social world serves well to raise bigger questions. Adding Catherine’s mother (Polly Adam) and a young student, Avery, provides plenty of satisfying intergenerational content.

To be sure, it’s all highly contrived. Gionfriddo is unabashed by this. Catherine teaches a class to just Avery and Gwen, which becomes more like a confessional. As lectures about feminism go, I can’t imagine them getting much sprightlier, with plenty of humour provided by the arrogance of youth, the dissatisfaction of middle age and excellent one-liners. Emma Fielding handles the role of Gwen well, but Shannon Tarbet as Avery has the funnier lines.

Gionfriddo’s frequent collaborator Peter Dubois directs, and picks up the pace in the second half for the better. The characters don’t always convince, although Don, the flawed male of the piece (performed with style by Adam James), is carefully drawn and perhaps the most thought provoking.

It’s predictable that Catherine starts an affair, but this is the point at which Gionfriddo really gets to work. The twists and turns of a marital breakdown, observed again by both the elderly and the young, is dealt with bluntly and irreverently. The sense of humour is wicked and overpowers much studied thinking, but this stylish piece is sure to provoke debate.

Until 22 February 2014

www.hampsteadtheatre.com

Written 23 January 2014 for The London Magazine

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