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Posts Tagged ‘Nancy Harris’

The two ladies in question are the First Lady’s of France and the USA, thinly disguised from the present ones by changing their nationalities and a few other things. Nancy Harris’ new play is an interesting examination of the roles of First Ladies, supplemented by some insightful quotes from, and commentary on, nineteen real First Ladies from seven countries spanning seventy years in the accompanying programme.

Their husbands / the Presidents are at an emergency summit on the Cote d’Azur following recent terrorist outrages, trying to agree on an appropriate response. The two ladies have been taken to a side room following an incident when a protester threw something at one of them. Whilst the clean-up takes place, and their assistants discuss and reschedule their day, they share their respective husband’s positions, one seemingly in agreement with hers, the other more radical than her husband.

They also share information about their respective lives and feelings, sometimes willingly, sometimes coerced. It takes some interesting turns, some a touch implausible perhaps, but it does make you think about their roles and potential to influence their husbands and thereby world events. As Ladybird Johnson put it, they are ‘an unpaid public servant elected by one person, her husband’. It holds you in its grip for 100 minutes.

It’s somewhat limited dramatically by its confinement to one room, with views outside to the corniche from one side and to the corridor from the other. Zoe Wanamaker and Zrinka Cvitesic play their respective roles well and are very good together, sometimes in conflict, sometimes in concord. They are occasionally joined by their assistants, Yoli Fuller as diplomatic Georges and Lorna Brown as assertive Sandy, both well played, plus Fatima the maid, Raghad Chaar, whose role goes way beyond serving drinks.

Hopefully neither president will sue!

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This is very different to The Kitchen Sink, the last play at the Bush. It also has a kitchen sink – well, a whole kitchen – but that’s about where the similarities end. Whereas the previous ‘blue collar’ play was warm funny and feelgood this slice of middle class life is colder but just as thought-provoking and a little bit scary.

Hazel hasn’t really worked out what parenting means but is now heavily pregnant with her second child. She’s quit her job as a hot-shot lawyer and has misguidedly set up a lifestyle business at home importing olive oil from Sicily. Husband Richard is a successful plastic surgeon whose mercy missions to the third world at first seem altruistic but ultimately prove to be somewhat more self-serving. Son Daniel is a little troubled, and in trouble for his inappropriate attentions to a fellow pupil. Young Annie turns up from Sligo, employed by Richard to help Hazel with childcare (though he didn’t tell her) and their lives turn upside down. We eventually realise that Annie has ‘chosen’ Richard, as he becomes besotted with her. Hazel is betrayed and Daniel is caught in the middle.

Kate Fleetwood is simply terrific as Hazel. It’s a difficult emotional ride from former ice maiden through yummy mummy to woman scorned to epiphany when she ‘gets’ parenthood, but she does it brilliantly. Though pompous and vain Richard comes dangerously close to caricature, it’s a tribute to Mark Bazeley that in the second act much of the audience looked like they were about to march on the stage and give him a slap! Denise Gough’s brings out Annie’s complexity as she moves from naive young Irish girl to somewhat spooky predator. I think it was Jude Willoughby playing Daniel on the night I went and he was outstanding.

It takes a while before you uncover the depths in Nancy Harris’ play, and in the second act the twists and dark humour are occasionally overplayed, but ultimately I found it very satisfying and I’ve been reflecting on the awesome challenge of modern parenting ever since. I didn’t leave the theatre with the warm glow I had after The Kitchen Sink, but I did leave feeling stimulated and entertained in equal measure.

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