Friday 11 January 2019

Theatre Review: Anomaly

One of the (many) things that happened in the wake of Harvey Weinstein being exposed as a massive scumbag, to put it rather mildly, that I found puzzling was the fact that it almost instantly destroyed his wife's fashion business, Marchesa. 

Once an absolute powerhouse of the red carpet and associated thin rich women industry, anyone who was pictured wearing a Marchesa gown was now apparently condoning everything Weinstein had done. Now don't get me wrong, I'm as anti that human stain accumulating any more money as anyone else. But it just seemed odd to me that punishing the career of a woman who happened to have the considerable misfortune to be married to him was completely fine and normal. 

And the furore over Marchesa did give me pause to think, each time another horrific man in a position of power was exposed, what was going to happen to the family he was leaving in his wake?

Apparently this was not as original a thought as I liked to think it was. Because Anomaly, WildChild Productions’ new triple hander at The Old Red Lion Theatre, tackles exactly this question. When a fictional movie mogul falls spectacularly from grace, what happens to the three famous daughters he leaves behind? All have built their lives, for better or worse, around his name and his presence. What will happen to them now that his name is a curse and his presence nonexistent?

It surely goes without saying that this play is a tough watch, I mean the subject matter - privilege, celebrity culture, everyday sexism - is hardly laugh a minute. But it's also gripping, necessary and just a straight up great piece of writing. Liv Warden's script is fantastic, fizzing with energy, ideas and freshness. Her focus on her female characters is laser sharp - men intrude into her space only to remind us that the patriarchy is awful. And the three characters are remarkably diverse and well developed for a play that lasts only just over an hour. 

Philosophically I am so here for a play that tells this sort of story with female voices, all of whom are different and none of whom are just victims. The small, subtle ways that Warden shows that every facet of these innocent women’s lives being open to intense and insane judgement versus the apparent l’aissez faire treatment of their father’s many misdeeds (to a point) is so well done. It’s often utterly depressing in many ways to watch, because it rings so true, but the writing is always so good that you sort of don’t mind. 

There is also humour built in too, predominantly of the pitch black variety that I particularly enjoy. Borrowing very much, I think, from the Mel Brooks school of 'laugh at your enemies, it'll drive them nuts', much of the humour is derived from the nonsense of modern celebrity culture and its treatment of women. It's very much a laugh at, rather than laugh with, sort of thing; Peep Show-esque in its discomfort at times. Nevertheless, it cuts through the darkness and gives the piece a mischievousness that totally works.

The production is top class, remarkably effective for a pub production. Director Adam Small really sets the piece loose in a minimal but clever set (can pub theatre sets be anything else if they're going to actually work?) by Charlotte Dennis. The structure of the play is almost a set of interlocking monologues and lighting designer Holly Ellis brings this together beautifully. The use of recorded voice overs for unseen characters, which could be annoying if misjudged, is well done too. 

Finally, the three women assembled to bring Anomaly to life are just brilliant and all deserve to go on to exceptionally good things. Alice Handoll has the most fun part (well, after a fashion) as troubled Polly and delivers impish charm that makes her eventual Big Reveals (no spoilers) and dramatic change in tone all the more arresting. Natasha Cowley as Daddy's business heir apparent Piper gives us the perfect balance of steel and heartbreak, her commitment to her family and sacrifices for her/their career totally relatable. Katherine Samuelson rounds out the trio as Penny, the actress with shades of Kardashian, and makes her character more sympathetic, complex and strong than that summation could ever suggest. They're a hell of a team, these three. Squad goals.

Anomaly is a really exciting play. For all that it's hard to watch and challenging to process, it is immensely rewarding and a great hour of theatre all round. It's also an amazing showcase of young, female talent doing stuff on their own terms. And I think we can all agree that's A Good Thing.

Anomaly is at The Old Red Lion Theatre (WHICH HAS A RESIDENT DOG and how did I not know this?) until 2nd February.

My ticket for Anomaly was kindly provided by the production. An unreserved seat would normally cost £17. 

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