Trafalgar Studios, London – until 9 June 2018
How often do you see a set with fitted carpets? Walking into Trafalgar Studios and seeing such a realistically dated four-star hotel suite, I thought, ‘oh, good, Katy Brand is going to rip conventional box set theatre a new arsehole and satirise everything about sixties’ drawing room comedy’. Instead of which, she’s written one.
In 3 Women, three generations of women are holed up in a hotel room the night before the middle one’s wedding: for further references to the obvious mother/grandmother/daughter dynamics, I refer you to After Henry, the long-running Radio 4 Sitcom in which Prunella Scales played the put-upon widow in the middle.
Brand has drawn them more flawed: Debbie Chazen’s chaotic Suzanne has turned to crystals, flowing garments and credit card debt – but the script still has plenty of body shaming which I thought modern women didn’t do – and about which Chazen has complained in The Stage.
Maisie Richardson-Sellers as student daughter Laurie is obliged by the text to be mixed-race, gender-fluid and a walking right-on mouthpiece for every Generation Z soundbite from her trans boyfriend James to endorsing test tube babies to spare wear and tear on wombs.
It’s not the authorial intention, but you’ll probably warm best to grandmother Eleanor – a clockspring of a woman, wound so tight you can practically feel her clenched sphincter in Anita Dobson’s immaculately-observed and timed interpretation. She can’t even tug at her neat little jacket without it meaning something, it’s a really fine performance. Despite loving her progeny, Eleanor is finally making her own life independently and in Puglia, with a local lothario after a lifetime’s dedication to school teaching, family, and the vodka bottle.
Trouble is, nobody seems to believe what the characters are saying, least of all Brand herself. The Millennial doublespeak in the mouth of the 18-year old student is massively unconvincing, especially when her ardent feminism is undermined by a fumbled encounter with the young room-service waiter.
Dobson’s character wakes briefly from a drunken doze to see him going down on her granddaughter in the hallway, and her reaction suggests the moral conclusion to Brand’s piece is ‘a bit of cunnilingus would have made life more bearable’. It’s not necessarily untrue, but it’s not the fabric of a play.