Clean Slate – Courtyard Theatre, London

Writer: Catherine Chabot
Adapted by: Vanessa Labrie and Kathleen Glynn
Director: Deborah Kearne
Reviewer: Maryam Philpott

For many living in big cities, friends are the most important people in our lives; partners come and go, many Londoners can only see family a few times a year, but the people we surround ourselves with every day are the people we turn to and rely on. Catherine Chabot’s play, Table Rase, has been translated into English by Trip and Guts Theatre and renamed Clean Slate, celebrating the highs and lows of female friendship.

tell-us-block_editedSix very different women gather at a Lakeside cabin, drawn back together by years of close friendship. As they excitedly unpack, talk turns to the lives they’re leading, lovers, sex and the difficulty of modern living. But these women are here for a reason and as the moment draws near, tempers fray and long-withheld judgements on each other’s lifestyles pour out.

Clean Slate is a refreshingly bold and rounded look at modern women, which from the start offers no holds barred talk of sex acts, porn and relationship angst, as well as the shared memories of six childhood friends. The style is casual, relaxed and very normal, conversations meander and flow effortlessly, flitting between subjects and create a genuine sense of warmth between the unnamed characters.

TV shows like Sex & the City, and Girls opened the door to different portrayals of unmarried women which theatre has been slower to pick up, but Clean Slate’s locker-room-equivalent frankness is part of its initial charm. Yet, during a rather prolonged 1-hour 50-minute show, the play returns to this theme again and again, partly revelling in its capacity to shock with graphic talk of female sexuality but also accidentally reaffirming the old idea that women have nothing to talk about but their lovers. They touch on apocalyptic sentiments briefly, but we find out nothing about their careers, other friendships, interests or views on any intellectual topic.

The characters are, however, engaging and distinctly defined, but never pigeonholed into types. They are all in the cabin to enact a change of life, to start with a clean slate, and in Vanessa Labrie and Kathleen Glynn’s translation each character feels fully-former, has a range of emotion and varying experience of life to bring to the table. Labrie plays a woman who looks for the positives and is frustrated by the constant negativity of Asha Cluer’s character who feigns a tough exterior to cover a deeper hurt.

Kathleen Glynn is an anxious former anorexic who has a Woody Allen level of neurosis about her body image, while Lauren Douglin’s sassy character is the most relaxed about her sexuality and exploits but feels scrutinised for her freedoms. In what is a strong ensemble piece, Clara Emanuel and Hannah Wilder stood out as the two gentler characters, with the more innocent Emanuel trying to keep everyone on schedule and shyly admitting to her inexperience, while Wilder gives a very low-key performance, sitting back and observing until her big moment towards the end of the play in which she carefully avoids mawkishness.

Clean Slate is about 20 minutes too long, as scenes become a little repetitive and, while it’s clear from the start that the friends have gathered for a particular purpose, it doesn’t always feel as though it’s building towards something, so the end, when it does come, has lost some of its edge because of the this and may have been stronger off-stage. Yet Trip and Guts Theatre Company has created a show with six characters who act and talk like real young women, and seem like genuine friends.

Runs until 13 July 2017 | Image: Trip and Guts

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A strong ensemble

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The Reviews Hub London is under the editorship of John Roberts.The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.

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