DramaLondonReview

The Revlon Girl – The Park 90, London

Writer: Neil Anthony Docking
Director: Maxine Evans
Reviewer: Richard Maguire

A play with laughs about the Aberfan disaster of 1966, when 150,000 tonnes of colliery waste collapsed on the Welsh village killing 144 people, including 116 children, may seem an insensitive enterprise, but fortunately, in writer Neil Anthony Docking’s hands, this play successfully navigates tricky waters. The Revlon Girl is a sympathetic portrayal of a community ravaged by tragedy.

It’s eight months after the disaster and a group of grieving mothers have invited a makeup rep to come and talk to them upstairs in the Aberfan Hotel about beauty products and beauty regimes.  The mothers are worried that the village will think the Revlon girl’s visit frivolous and thoughtless, and so ask ‘Revlon’ to park her new Zodiac behind the hotel, and if anyone asks she’s to say she’s from the WI or the Red Cross. After eight months of mourning, these mothers want to feel like women again, even just for a few hours: a chink of light in their dark days.

Very little make-up is applied, however, as the women share their heartbreaking stories, and argue about who was to blame for the disaster. Marilyn blames herself for sending her two girls to school that day, while boisterous Rona blames the Coal Board for storing the waste above a stream, which allowed the waste to slip into the village so violently. Snobbish Jean suggests that no one knew about the stream, but the subsequent Inquiry discovered that the Coal Board did know the dangers, but did nothing to avoid them. Amidst the tears and the shouting, the optimistic Sian tries to keep the peace long enough for ‘Revlon’ to display the virtues of her’ life-changing make-up.’

The actors inhabit their roles very well, but a few of the characters are too broadly drawn especially the sweary, mouthy Rona (Bethan Thomas), who prides herself on telling it like it is, and her foil, Jean (Zoë Harrison), who with her fancy hairstyle and clothes, is trying to escape her working-class origins.  These characters need more subtleties if they are to really come alive on stage. The most engaging character is Marilyn who says little, and yet in Michelle McTernan’s performance, her emotions are clearly visible whether it’s in a thin-lipped smile, or in a faraway look as she remembers waiting all day at her front door on the day of the disaster, in case her children somehow found their way home. Antonia Kinlay tries hard with a slightly underwritten role to bring some resolve to ‘Revlon’ but with such a hostile welcome, from Rona particularly, it is hard to believe that she would have stayed on to give her demonstration of the cosmetic range.

With a running time of only 85 minutes, perhaps it is difficult to provide the characters with the depth that they all deserve, and some of the humour, which is needed to balance the tears, is too unsubtle and, at times, too slapstick. Although the Park 90 is an intimate space, this play and the acting may suit a bigger auditorium where some of these broad strokes may not be so visible.

The Revlon Girl has come down from the Edinburgh Fringe, trailing glowing reviews in its wake, and it’s not hard to see why as, despite its flaws, and coming so soon after Grenfell, another disaster that could have been avoided, it’s a moving representation of grief and helplessness.

 

Runs until 14 October 2017  | Image: Cyril Preddy

 

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The Reviews Hub London is under the acting editorship of Richard Maguire. 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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