Stein and Toklas are in their home in the French Alps. They are expecting guests when a young woman arrives a day early. They persuade her to stay, and then the guests arrive – all writers. Parker wisecracks, Hellman is terrifyingly tough and battles with the equally monstrous Stein, Toklas is concillatory, a peacemaker, and last to arrive, Christie is curious and oddly out of place among these squabbling Americans. In time we discover what the unexpected guest, Muriel Gardiner, apparently a psychiatrist, is doing – she has come to collect money from Stein which will help pay for passports for Jews she will help escape from the Nazis. Will the other women respond? It i Hellman who holds back.
McCasland has crafted this fictional encounter beautifully, stripping back the layers of acid conversation until we reach a shocking true story – the maid is someone Stein and Toklas have rescued from the Nazis. It is the day France capitulated, the Nazis are about to take over, things are going to become ever more dangerous and being American is no guarantee of safety. The performances – this rehearsed reading is immaculately put together – are superb with Linda Bassett a truly monstrous, but beneath it all kind, Stein, and Juliet Stevenson a glittering hard boiled Hellman blazing out from the confines of the screen.
Gertrude Stein:Linda Bassett.
Dorothy Parker: Debbie Chazen.
The Naid: Natasha Karp.
Alice B Toklas: Catherine Russell.
Muriel Gardiner: Sarah Soleman.
Lillian Hellman: Juliet Stevenson.
Agatha Christie: Sophie Thompson.
Director: Hannah Chissick.
Tickets – www.littlewars.co.uk They cost £10 pkus a £2 booking fee. The cast and creative team are raising money in aid of Women for Refugee Women. They believe the play is a stark remninder that at a time when anti-seitism is rife, gender politics are divisive and LGBTQ plus hate crime has increased that not much has changed,
Photograph: John Brannoch.