Writer: Sarah Daniels
Director: Sarah Frankcom
Reviewer: Tom Finch
Celebrating theatre’s contribution to the LGBT+ experience, The National Theatre is presenting a season of rehearsed readings, talks and exhibitions. Fifty years on from the decriminalisation of homosexuality it’s clear, standing in the brutalist foyer how much has changed for queer people in this country. Same-sex couples linger through the gift shop hand in hand; signs point the way to gender neutral toilets and their big hit of the season is a revival of Tony Kushner’s gay epic Angels in America.
The first event of the season was a rehearsed reading of the National’s first-ever full-length play by a female playwright, Neaptide, by Sarah Daniels. First performed 31 years ago in 1986 it looks at the battle a lesbian woman faces trying to retain custody of her young daughter while also holding down a promising teaching career.
The play does definitely show its age in 2017 but it serves as a sharp reminder of how things once were. After discovering two girls in a romantic embrace the school goes into anti-queer lockdown threatening to expel any students with a hint of the incorrect about them.
Director Sarah Frankcom assembled a terrific cast for this one-off event. Jessica Raine takes on the central role of Claire, the young, promising teacher who is being punished by her ex-husband for switching to the other team. Ms Raine played the role with a truthful intensity, clearly finding much in her character to play.
Maureen Beattie plays busybody Mum, Joyce. Struggling to come to terms with her daughter’s newfound sexuality yet fiercely matriarchal she got the balance between conflicted and tender just right.
It was Adjoa Andoh, playing the matronly headmistress Beatrice who got the most reaction from the audience. Ms Andoh was clearly revelling in the God-fearing, antiquated views of her character managing to illicit more than a few belly laughs from the audience. That her sudden switch from a woman on a rampage to closeted lesbian doesn’t ring true feels more the fault of the play than the gifted actress.
One could question the motives of a queer season. Sitting in the audience last night it was clear that everyone sat in the plush beige seats was of a liberal bent and thus it’s unlikely any minds will be changed by these events. But the work serves as an important reminder of how far as a country we have come and still how far there is left to go.
With a range of thought-provoking events taking place over the weekend, it is well worth heading down to the South Bank and seeing what’s on offer.
Reviewed on 6 July 2017 | Image: Contributed