by Abi Morgan.
Donmar Warehouse 41 Earlham Street WC2H 9LX To 26 September 2015.
Mon-Sat 7.30pm Mat Thu & Sat 2.30pm.
Audio-described 12 Sept 2.30pm.
Captioned 14 Sept.
Runs 1hr 35min No interval.
TICKETS: 0844 871 7624 (transaction fee £2.50).
Review: Carole Woddis 5 May.
Fascinating play of female power and love.
Abi Morgan’s The Hour was one of the BBC’s sharpest, funniest drama series of 2011/12, a withering look at the Corporation circa 1950s. A decade earlier, she had taken a boldly original look at behind-the-scenes power-play in the international political arena in the form of four women from very different backgrounds brought together on one night when their worlds are changing.
What, she asks, makes these women the way they are? How does power – and the lack of it – make them respond?
Morgan must have had several examples in her mind for Micheline, her central character who in Sinéad Cusack’s subtle, beautifully-pitched performance comes across as part Imelda Marcos, part Elena Ceausescu.
In Peter McIntosh’s sumptuous gold and dangerously cut-glass set, Micheline, smiling and controlling, plays cat and mouse with her best friend Genevieve, whose artist husband died in mysterious circumstances, Gilma, an opportunistic interpreter from the wrong part of the country, and Kathryn, an independent-minded foreign photo-journalist come to photograph Micheline’s husband, Julio, the dictator.
But Julio is late, the air crackles with approaching gunfire and the lights snap and flash with a noise like an amplified camera shutter.
Morgan doesn’t make it easy for us. She writes overlapping, short, often repeated scenes, the reason for which only emerges in the tense, highly-charged last quarter-hour. Four women, with scores to settle, at odds, divided by language.
But Splendour is also a play about love and what women will do for it, full of tiny crucial female detail you seldom hear expressed – as when Michelle Fairley’s Genevieve recounts the moment she knew her husband had been murdered by Micheline’s supporters but chooses to hide it from her young son. “I squeezed his hand and betrayed him. They don’t forget that.”
Fairley’s whole body seems to shrink in that moment even as Cusack’s Prada power-dressed Micheline looks on with the impassivity of the seemingly impregnable. But her moment has come; the revolution is at the door. And even as it beckons, Cusack’s defiant, `shoot’, directed at the photo-journalist tells you all you need to know about the thrill and madness of power.
Gilma: Zawe Ashton.
Micheline: Sinéad Cusack.
Genevieve: Michelle Fairley.
Kathryn: Genevieve O’Reilly.
Director: Robert Hastie.
Designer: Peter McIntosh.
Lighting: Lee Curran.
Sound: Adrienne Quartly.
Movement: Jack Murphy.
First performance of this production of Splendour at the Donmar Warehouse Theatre London 30 July 2015.