Linda – Royal Court Theatre, London

Writer: Penelope Skinner
Director: Michael Longhurst
Reviewer:Andy Moseley

A revolving stage rises up into the air with sets on several different levels and the ability for actors to effortlessly or dramatically move between them without ever stepping off. The glass shelves in the centre display an array of near identical health and beauty products adding to the feeling that Es Devlin’s set is your entry into slick, stylish environment where the individual is reduced to a commodity. Welcome to the world of Linda, the award-winning businesswoman at the heart of Penelope Skinner’s new play.

When the play opens Linda is launching a new beauty product aimed at the over 50s woman, seldom seen and never marketed to. It’s a radical approach for her, and a superbly well-observed, funny scene that rings true on all levels. From here, we’re transported to Linda’s domestic life as her youngest daughter, Bridget, contemplates what to use as her drama audition piece, musing on the lack of good monologues for women, and her older daughter Alice walks around in a skunk onesie following an incident in her past. In the background Linda’s husband, Neil, pays little attention to anything going on around him, absorbed in his dreams of becoming a rock god in his fifties.

Skinner is painting on a very broad canvas, and in the first act all of the pieces merge together effortlessly. The reaction to the new product is not the one Linda expected, but is the one she should have seen coming as handling of the campaign is given over to 25-year-old ‘Brand Strategist’ Amy, who claims to respect her older colleague, but at the same time is 100% sure that her time is past because she is just so old.

The younger generation is also represented by Luke, the office temp who’s allegiance to his job stretches as far as the women he can look at and the money he can make with the minimum effort and maximum manipulation of his time sheet, and Stevie, the 27-year-old singer Neil is having an affair with.

The cast all deliver excellent performances. While Noma Dumezweni has stepped into the shoes of Kim Cattrall at very short notice, and the part was clearly written with Cattrall in mind, Dumezweni is already delivering a commanding performance suggesting that audiences later in the run will be in for a real treat. Imogen Bryan and Karla Croome as Alice also deserve particular credit for the superb way they carry scenes that don’t feature Linda or revolve around the main plot. The mixture of frustrations, dreams, experience and naivety they bring to their rôles make their scenes a joy to watch.

The first act builds to a great climax as Linda delivers the truth in another PowerPoint presentation taking on advertising, ageing, the differences between the sexes and anything else that comes into her worldview while she’s speaking.

Act Two has a lot to live up to, and unfortunately never hits the same heights. The cohesion that held the plots and sub-plots together starts to feel more forced than natural. The demise of Linda’s career seems protracted, the diversion of a possible affair and the early termination of it come across as more of an add-on than a vital part of the story. The sub-plot of the reason behind Alice’s reluctance to engage with the world dilutes the play a little, and, at over two and a half hours, the end impression is that Skinner has perhaps tried to cover a little more than she needed to and that the message would be just as clear with a little less.

Runs until 9 January 2015 | Image: Alistair Muir


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