Ok, so this is not my normal post on mental health BUT part of mental health is doing things you love. And I love theatre. Now I am back on track with my blog, every now and then I will be reviewing different books, plays etc. as well.
The play is set in the aftermath of a plague that breaks out killing most of the population – mainly men. The women, who are believed to carry the contagion and the men, who are the ones vulnerable to it are now separated by the divide. Women have children through artificial insemination and when boys become old enough that they are susceptible to the women’s disease, they are transferred across the border; hence the nearly all female cast. This is a dystopian where the social norm is to be gay but where a more biblical atmosphere has taken over in the way that women act, dress and think. The story is told from the diaries of two youngsters, a boy and a girl, brother and sister, growing up in the repressed and controlling future world. Woman are portrayed as powerful temptresses that will lead men astray no matter what the consequences – even death. I’ve seen some critical backlash about this on social media but as a proud feminist I thought it was hilarious.
The message I got from this firstly is the importance that we give gender. Ayckbourn brilliantly showed that even when you physically divide the genders, there will still be those who are more ‘feminine’ and those more ‘masculine’. It reminds me of a speech Emma Watson gave on how gender should be viewed on a spectrum rather than an either/or.
The play did however also touch on other issues such as equal rights, the treatment of women, extremism, oppression and that everyone deserves the right to love whoever they choose to love.
I fell in love with both the main characters Soween and Elihu almost straight away. Their parts were endearing, funny and outrageous. Ayckbourn sunk right through to nitty-gritty, swept under the carpet issues that we never discuss by letting the diaries of two naïve, straight talking teenagers take over. They are the voices of young love we have all once experienced. Both of them deserve a medal just for keeping a straight face through some of the diary extracts that had me both cringing and laughing.
Ok – so I loved it BUT 4 hours with one 20 min break was a KILLER. Especially in the Old Vic, where it is beautifully, gloriously old, the seats are tiny and you have no hope in hell of your knees not being up around your ears if you are taller than 5ft! I feel that Ayckbourn was very much caught up in the story that he needed to tell and the message he so desperately wanted to get across that he may have let some of the dramatics slide. Not that I expect to be kept on the edge of my seat for the whole play, but there was definitely parts that were dragged out a little more than needed and some long lulls of no seat edging. Part 4 was both my favourite and most frustrated section of the play particularly for this.
The original production of this play was 6 hours long but it was cut down – so for that I’m thankful!
I am geek around these things and what a privilege to be sitting in The Old Vic! I loved their use of staging and how quite frankly, their main prop was a curtain! For me all of the pizazz was not missed. It was simple, capturing and kept you focused on the main actor in the scene. No spoilers, but for me, the pool scenes were my favourite APART from the huge blue light that nearly burned out my retinas in just one of the acts, so I can forgive that. – Beware if you are in the Baylis circle!
It had me laughing, cringing, crying. It was a raw and gritty way of looking at our culture and how we view gender and above all love and acceptance. The timing and lulls aside, it was honest, hard hitting and worth seeing simply for meeting Soween and Elihu.
Written by Alan Ayckbourn Directed by Old Vic Baylis Director Annabel Bolton