Writer: Cordelia O’Neill
Director: Kate Budgen
Music: Elliott Rennie
Reviewer: Ann Bawtree
Cordelia O’Neill’s intriguing play No Place for a Woman commands the attention of the audience for a full hour and a quarter, with no break, but is so gripping that the time passes unnoticed.
The two protagonists, performing with astonishing virtuosity, snap and crackle at each other, seemingly without a pause for breath. Who are they? At times, they could be just friends, sisterly, mother and daughter or even two halves of the same person. Where are they? Suffering in a concentration camp or safely reminiscing of happier times? It is not even mentioned which is Annie and which Isabella.
They are opposites. In the same room, one is hot, the other feels cold, a draught depicted by a shaft of light separating them. Although the players must be about the same age they deftly depict “the older woman” and “the young girl” with subtle nuance and this tension continues throughout. They seem to be waiting, but that is all right because, as the young girl says: “Waiting is safe”.
The conversational style introduces “Frederick” who never appears. Is he a tyrant or saviour? It depends on who you ask. Set in the shadowy years of the aftermath of the Second World War, will anything ever have even the semblance of what used to pass for normality?
Dance is a thread running through the whole play, either that of the strictures of classical ballet training or the exuberance of the ballroom. Throughout, the text is backed by a cello, sonorous yet unobtrusive, live but invisible. The need for two actresses who are also classically trained in ballet and a proficient cellist, this is never going to be a play that is easily cast. The three performing at the comfortably refurbished Theatre 503 are supreme examples of what is required.
Eventually, the connection between the two women is revealed as is their relationship with Frederick, in all its unpleasantness.
Runs until 27 May 2017 | Image: Contributed