Park Theatre, London – until 12 October 2019
Guest reviewer: Claire Roderick
Black Chiffon, first performed in the West End in 1949, is very much of its time, but this classy production is intriguing and entertaining.
Days before her son’s wedding, well-to-do housewife Alicia Christie does something completely out of character and commits a crime. Her husband hires the best lawyer to build a medical defence, but Dr Hawkins’ explanation for Alicia’s behaviour horrifies Robert Christie as he feels it would bring more shame to the family than Alicia being found guilty.
Lesley Storm has written a fascinating central character in Alicia – constantly acting as a buffer between her son and her husband, bitterly jealous of their close bond. Abigail Cruttenden is note perfect as this respectable woman struggling with her inner turmoil and possibly menopausal symptoms. The epitome of stiff upper lip, with a cut-glass accent and constant smile as she keeps up the façade of normality. Ian Kelly keeps husband Robert almost comically awkward and unapproachable, with his most sexist comments drawing audible gasps from the audience more used to a semblance of gender equality.
Alicia’s act of rebellion/cry for help mystifies her family, and the sympathetic diagnosis from Dr Hawkins is a mishmash of Freud and empty nest syndrome. As well as psychologically examining Alicia’s role as a mother, Storm’s looser portraits of the other members of the dysfunctional family are just as enjoyable. Most of the lighter moments involve pregnant daughter Thea (Eva Feiler) and her glib proto-feminist comments that rile her father.
Director Clive Brill keeps the pace languid, with slow scene changes accompanied by evocative cello music as the light changes outside the large windows of the Christie’s drawing room. Beth Colley’s set is imposing rather than homely – a nod to the fractured family – with a lovely touch having the audience enter through the family’s hallway, dressed with coat hooks, briefcase and pictures.