Turkey, Hope Theatre

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Toni and Madeline are happily settled in their North London home, but Madeline is missing something. From a young age, she has looked forward to being a mother. Now 32 and snuggly coupled, she thinks she’s running out of time to conceive. But as lesbians who can’t afford clinic fees, it’s not so easy. As her biological clock ticks, her desperation drives her to commit an appalling act of deception.

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Queen Lear, Edinburgh Festival Fringe

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What happened to King Lear’s wife? The woman who birthed the three daughters that he loves so dearly is never mentioned in his title play. Back in the ’80s, the Women’s Theatre Group and Elaine Feinstein created Lear’s Daughters, a flawed, feminist play attempting to reason why Goneril and Regan do what they do by depicting the girls’ upbringing. Their mother is present, but ill and rarely thought upon until her death at the hands of a sex-crazed maniac. Lear and his obsession with having a son cost her her life.

Ronnie Dorsey, perhaps inspired by this version that focused on the daughters rather than their mother, puts the young queen centre stage in Queen Lear. Also a feminist perspective, this script is reflective and revealing, but slow to develop and incorporates a disconnected subplot that results in an unlikely end.

Alice Allemano is the young queen, heavily pregnant with her second child. Goneril and Regan are the daughters of his first wife, a good device that explains the sisters’ disconnect in Shakespeare’s play. Lear’s need for a son translates to her conviction that the child is a boy, but the pregnancy has not gone well. She is overdue, in constant pain, and begs her nurse and the Father overseeing her care to cut the baby from her body. Through her medicated delirium, she reveals her transition from blushing, wide-eyed bride at 16 to an abused incubator. Jane Goddard plays the nurse and Mary McCusker the priest; the trio of women have a warm, maternal chemistry and all are excellent performers.

Dorsey’s script, whilst an interesting premise, has some issues. The dialogue is overwritten and obstructions any natural tension that would arise from the situation. It also slows down narrative progression and often feels clumsy. The secondary plotline, though it has potential to develop into its own story, feels out of place and not fully integrated. The big reveal is barely acknowledged by the other characters, briefly discussed, then forgotten about in light of the queen’s health.

A thorough trimming would do the text a world of good and free up space for more action. The performances are strong and the examination of this forgotten character compelling, but one that could be executed more smoothly.

Queen Lear runs through 29th August.

The Play’s the Thing UK is committed to covering fringe and progressive theatre in London and beyond. It is run entirely voluntarily and needs regular support to ensure its survival. For more information and to help The Play’s the Thing UK provide coverage of the theatre that needs reviews the most, visit its patreon.

Auld Acquaintance, Bread & Roses Theatre

Imogen and Jake are a trendy, young couple with a new born daughter. It’s nearly Christmas and they are at their mother’s house with Jake’s brother Rob and his wife, Natasha. Everything should be perfect, but it’s far from it: Jake and Rob’s mum is dying in a hospice, Imogen has fallen out of love with Jake whilst struggling with post-natal depression, Rob and Imogen hate each other but Imogen and Natasha are old school friends with an intimate secret.

This one act play by Natalie Audley, newly re-worked for London after a 2014 run at Brighton Fringe, still needs some refining. There are some killer one-liners and painfully spot-on insight on fertility and relationships, but an abrupt ending and wordy lines that uncomfortably stumble from the actors’ mouths give the script a weight that goes against it comedic instincts. The pace varies, but feels slower than it ought to. Audley clearly leans towards poetry and language-driven plays, but some trimming here and there would go a long way.

Performances are mixed and take some time to find their rhythm. Charlie Lees-Massey is by far the best of the cast of four as Natasha. Her moment of surrender to Imogen (Emily Ambler) is sexy as hell, and she maintains a consistent energy and believability throughout. Ambler’s best moments are with Lees-Massey, as are Tom Everatt’s at Rob. Matthew Corbett as Jake seems awkward throughout, though this could be a character choice. Director Courtney Larkin deftly moves her actors around the tiny stage without it feeling crowded or blocking sight lines.

There’s still a clunkiness to the script but further expansion and chiselling will refine the dialogue and turn this into a polished piece of contemporary naturalism. The issues presented are crucial ones to examine on stage, especially as they are told from a female perspective and with a 50/50 gender split cast, but more development is crucial to give them the power they deserve.

The Play’s the Thing UK is committed to covering fringe and progressive theatre in London and beyond. It is run entirely voluntarily and needs regular support to ensure its survival. For more information and to help The Play’s the Thing UK provide coverage of the theatre that needs reviews the most, visit its patreon.