Linda**** (Royal Court Theatre)

Posted: December 4, 2015 in Theatre

linda

Penelope Skinner does not go in for subtlety in her new play, there is no lyricism in her writing, rather she treats the audience as if a punchbag, ramming home point after point and getting audible gasps in response. The play is a commentary on the world 45 years on from The Female Eunuch, seen through the eyes of Linda, a woman who has it all – successful career, happy marriage, grown children – and then, at the age of 55, finds it all starting to unravel. Her brand of feminism is expressed through her job of marketing anti-ageing cosmetics, fighting against a culture in which women slowly become invisible as they grow older; she has a clear vision of what modern society expects of women and, more specifically, what modern women expect of women and what she expects of herself. The playwright offers no strong male perspective – Linda’s schoolteacher husband Neil (Dominic Mafham) is presented as insipid, her boss Dave (Ian Redford) is a perfunctory character. Skinner’s play is all about the women: Linda herself, her two daughters and Amy (Amy Beth Hayes), the younger woman who threatens to usurp her in her career. The older daughter Alice (Karla Crome), now in her mid-20s, still hides her female form in a skunk costume following a cyber bullying attack in her schooldays, the younger one is an aspiring actor choosing between Hamlet or Lear for her audition piece because Shakespeare did not write interesting roles for women (really?!).  Michael Longhurst’s production is crisp and lucid and Es Devlin’s towering, multi-levelled, revolving set, alternating between home and workplace, has the perfect look of glossy modernity. As Linda, Noma Dumezweni is shaping a titanic performance, but she is not quite there yet because she stepped into the role very late and, at this performance (after press night) she still needed to refer to her script, This distraction meant that she was not 100% in character in some scenes and not engaging fully with other actors, but the good news is that she will get better and the production will get better with her. The play’s weakest point is the character, more caricature, of Amy. She is not ,as we may have expected, a worthy adversary to Linda, perhaps herself 30 years younger, but a shallow bitch who had, coincidentally, been Alice’s chief tormentor at school. Is Skinner trying to warn us that the vanguard of feminism, as represented by Linda, is in danger of being succeeded by a reversion to what preceded it? Post-curtain analysis and discussion may well reveal some of Skinner’s arguments to be confusing and even contradictory, but that hardly matters. The real point is that this bold, provocative and supremely theatrical production gets us thinking.

Performance date: 2 December 2015

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