THE KILLING OF SISTER GEORGE
by Frank Marcus.
London Theatre Workshop above The Eel Brook Pub 65 New Kings Road SW6 4SG To 21 November 2015.
Tue-Sat 7.45pm Mat Sat & Sun 3pm.
Runs 2hr 15min One interval.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 8 November.
Play worth reviving, done skilfully as here.
The Killing of Sister George appeared in Bristol, then London in 1965; John Osborne’s A Patriot for Me, also written then, didn’t appear at all.
Osborne dealt frankly with homosexuality. With the Lord Chamberlain still censoring plays, Marcus was more tactful in the relations between Alice ‘Childie’ McNaught and June Buckridge, radio soap star as District Nurse Sister George in ‘Applehurst’, an imaginary BBC programme evidently inspired by The Archers. The contrast between its tidy dilemmas and its star’s messy life prefigures Peter Nichols’ The National Health four years later.
Marcus still shocks with the humiliations George metes-out to Alice in their flat. But a shock’s coming her way as TV executive Mercy Croft brings news George is to be axed to reverse falling audience ratings. Audience loyalty – tributes, floral and verbal, flood in – doesn’t affect executive ruthlessness; societies sacrifice their strongest members. But career death, with BBC insult offered to injury in a proposed alternative job, is only part of it.
There is nothing of the Workshop about Artful Theatre’s production, despite the venue’s name. It has strong, experienced actors working on a full set, skilful lighting and a BBC-standard broadcast covering the death of Buckridge’s character.
Director Scott Le Crass sees Sioned Jones’ June through a process of anxiety, anger and defeat during the action, the only exaggeration coming in the contrast between her anger and excessive sweetness to ‘Mrs Mercy’ (none of the three is regularly called by their straightforward name).
Sarah Shelton is immaculate as the corporate executive, smiling politeness sheathing the knife she bears. And Janet Amsden’s tactful performance makes the fortune-telling cookie neighbour realistic, the only kind-hearted person around, rather than a re-run of Blithe Spirit’s Madame Arcati.
But the shifting dynamic is increasingly created by Briony Rawle’s Alice. Rebellion soon peeps from behind her submissive façade with its frame of straight-combed hair. Submission is her survival technique, used with passive-aggressive expertise as she leaps to exploit sympathy and offers of help from Mrs Mercy.
Increasingly credible as someone edging towards middle-age; Rawle’s finely-judged Alice is a hard-bitten cookie beneath her childish, clinging dependency.
June Buckridge: Sioned Jones.
Alice McNaught: Briony Rawle.
Mrs Mercy Croft: Sarah Shelton.
Madame Xenia: Janet Amsden.
Bill: Gary Sefton.
Fred: Justin Savage.
Farmer Bromley/Announcer: Jamie Hinde.
Director: Scott Le Crass.
Designer: Justin Savage.
Lighting: Dan Terry.
Sound: Mike Furness.
Musical Arranger: Matthew Strachan.
Costume: Alexa Day.