The stage of the Purcell Room resembles a 70’s TV chat show studio, two comfortable armchairs positioned centre stage, a low table between them with a bottle of whiskey and two glasses the only adornments as though waiting for Michael Parkinson to interview Oliver Reed once more. Instead of Parky and Reed, an ‘acclaimed’ writer/director (Adrienne Truscott) and a nervous interviewer (Feidlim Cannon) take their seats and the interview begins.

This two-hander explores the role of gender in the performing arts with Adrienne dressed in a hyper-masculine outfit – a cross between classic Hemingway and Che Guevara – a busy moustache completing the look whilst aside from a large curly wig, Feidlim’s character is more conventionally dressed in a tweed jacket and corduroy trousers.

Interspersed with humour, the ‘interview’ discusses and challenges the role and treatment of women in the artist’s work – are they only ever minor two-dimensional characters whose only role is to allow their male colleagues to shine? How does the writer perceive women and react to the criticism directed towards him? There are some important and challenging ideas being confronted which, whilst perhaps more relevant historically, nonetheless remain pertinent (indeed the #metoo movement is referenced, albeit as a slightly awkward joke).

Around 40 minutes into the hour long play it’s revealed that what we’ve witnessed so far was in fact a play within a play as Adrienne removes her moustache and padding to now take on the role of the feminist challenging the interviewer and his views questioning if he really believes what he says or if he indeed is complicit in preserving the patriarchy, even if unintentionally. At this point the play slips into an almost farcical conclusion whilst retaining the underlying tension and leaving many of the questions unanswered (or perhaps inviting the audience to think about and answer them for themselves).

Whilst the Purcell Room felt a little large (at around 300 seats) and formal for this show – a smaller, more intimate venue may have added more intensity to the connection between audience and the performers.  The show nonetheless provided food for thought and a tight, well developed narrative with enough surprises, twists and lighter moments along the way.

This show was reviewed on the 11th May 2024 at the Southbank Centre, London.

Review written by Mike Stocks


Photo credit: Ste Murray

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