by April de Angelis.

Theatre on the Fly Oaklands Park PO19 6AP To 11 August 2012.
Mon-Sat 8pm Mat 28 July, 3 Aug 3pm.
Runs 2hr 5min One interval.

TICKETS: 01243 781312.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 24 July.

Vividly demonstrating the play’s not the thing – but owning a piece of the action.
Doll sweeps the floor backstage, tightens stays. Her time was past long before women went on stage in the 1660s to play ladies, becoming dismissively known as ‘playhouse creatures’.

Doll Common is Shakespeare’s barmaid and part-time whore in Henry IV. And this Doll, with years sweeping-up after others, has no illusions. Nor do they stay long with the younger, glamorous women who take the stage. The most important moment comes when they start demanding shares in the company alongside the men. It says something for the vivid presence April de Angelis gives her characters that after 19 years they still don’t seem schematic, pawns in a parable of women on the verge of a nervous breakthrough, finally gaining a piece of the financial action.

Only this makes them more than objects for men’s desire for young bodies, to be cast aside when complications, or the next young thing, comes along. Disfavour, disfigurement, pregnancy and age threaten these ‘creatures’. Even the theatre manager’s wife is progressively sidelined, hope flickering out as her career’s reduced to a box containing the scrolls of parts she will never play again.

Alexandra Gilbreath shows her seeking to depart with dignity after defending her husband and male authority before the younger actresses. Their moments in favour are followed by public insults from a former lover or inability to find the stairway to royal favours without a guide. Only young Nell, combining bling with savvy, has a strategy.

Michael Oakley’s production begins stodgily, missing some of the early confidence and light backstage chat. But it falls into place as careers falter, bringing at best neglect, at worst pain and degradation.

The high quality of Chichester’s actors becomes apparent as the mood darkens, in Gilbreath’s attempts at composure, Kirsty Besterman and Fiona Hampton’s anguish and hopelessness, and Charlotte Happy Beaumont’s brisk self-possession, with Susan Tracy’s Doll antecedent to a lineage of stage-doorkeepers who’ve seen it all.

All this comes with the rough intimacy of Chichester’s (alas) temporary new auditorium, where designer Andrew D Edwards creates the sense of backstage informality and the contrasting grandeur of painted stage scenery.

Nell Gwyn: Charlotte Happy Beaumont.
Rebecca Marshall: Kirsty Besterman.
Mary Betterton: Alexandra Gilbreath.
Elizabeth Farley: Fiona Hampton.
Doll Common: Susan Tracy.

Director: Michael Oakley.
Designer: Andrew D Edwards.
Lighting: Richard Howell.
Sound: Tom Meehan.

2012-07-28 10:41:53

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