From left to right: Lara Rossi, Michael Gould and Romola Garai dissect the play. / Photographed by Manuel Harlan
An empty stage. A member of the earlier audience returns to retrieve her forgotten bag. She is about to leave when a man appears on stage. He strikes up a conversation. “Did you like the play?” he asks. There follows a spiralling diatribe from the woman, attacking the play and deconstructing the very nature of audience-pleasing theatre. She viciously dissects not only the play she has seen but also its director – it becomes apparent that it is him. What he hasn’t recalled is that he had met this feisty young feminist six years earlier. It followed a talk he had given on writing for the theatre to an eager gathering of students. He’d taken her for a drink and had tried to seduce her. Fuelled with anger at his vague memory of this, she continues to lay into him and his world of theatre and its predictable audience in their desire to have productions with a conventional beginning, middle and end, along with a pleasing resolution. The play’s writer, Ella Hickson, could have easily been taking a pop at last night Almeida’s turnout: predominantly white, of a certain age (so, I slotted in there perfectly) and all probably Waitrose shoppers. After the fantastic cut and thrust of this opening salvo, beautifully written by Hickson and blazingly delivered by Lara Rossi to a battle-weary Samuel West, the action suddenly stops. What we thought was the play turns out to be two actors rehearsing a play, now joined on stage by writer Romola Garai and director Michael Gould in a Q&A to dissect the performance. And so starts the real play – or does it?
Samual West and Romola Garai and their tempestuous relationship. / Photographed by Manuel Harlan
Ella Hickson’s new work, in every sense of the word, plays with the audience in a series of events both in and out of the play. We were presented with the internal struggle of the writer wanting to stay true to the purity of her idea of cajoling the audience into thinking about important issues, in order to make a difference, and not having her work sullied by external forces, be that a tempting money offer for a screen adaptation of her work or submitting to the dictatorial views of a domineering director (Michael Gould). The play also focuses on sexual politics, feminism and women’s place in the world of theatre – are they just eye candy while all the men do the important talking or mere sensual pickings for men of power? It is right on the money in the current ‘Me Too’ climate.
In a rather poetic moment in the play Romola Garai and Lara Rossi finding more than solace in each other. / Photographed by Manuel Harlan
This four-hander is a tour de force for the actors involved, and Ella Hickson’s writing and Blanche McIntyre’s direction certainly ruffled the feathers of the Almeida audience, particularly in a scene where the two female protagonists, now settled into a lesbian relationship, bring each other to orgasm. This was accompanied by very prolonged noisy cries of pleasure. As I scanned the audience, there was a lot of nervous shuffling and coughing in the air from the grey-haired members. Was this Ella Hickson having her revenge? And it all ended unexpectedly, as I knew it would. A great piece of theatre from an almost totally female creative and production team.