WORTH A LOOK?: ** (on 28/11, **** potential later)
WHERE: Royal Court
WHEN: 28/11, runs to 9/1/16
Is it ever acceptable for a leading actor to carry their script with them while on stage and refer to it occasionally when they have clearly forgotten their lines?
On 19/11, six days before the first preview of Penelope Skinner’s new play, the Royal Court announced that its star, Kim Cattrall, had withdrawn from the role on doctors’ advice.
However, the show was to go on – hurrah! – and Olivier Award-winning Noma Dumezweni was to take on the role. We saw the 4th preview before Tuesday’s press night and were surprised that Dumezweni was rarely without her script during the near three-hour production.
We were in the third row and could also see how much this exceptionally brave actress was shaking as she occasionally put down her script to act with both hands.
Linda is the story of a 55-year-old businesswoman who works for a beauty company and wants to empower older women who might feel invisible.
She is undermined by younger work colleague Amy (Amy Beth Hayes tweeting above, looking extraordinarily like a youthful Kim Cattrall), discovers her husband is having an affair with a much younger woman and seeks to reassure her daughters (the excellent Karla Crome and Imogen Byron) that they respectively do not have to seek their own invisibility and can perform King Lear because of a dearth of substantial female acting roles.
Es Devlin (who excelled herself on Benedict Cumberbatch’s recent Hamlet at the Barbican) has once again conjured more magic with a stage that is multi-level, towers like a swan (the aforementioned cosmetics company is named Swan Beauty), squirts water and revolves. It is unlike anything we’ve ever seen in the theatre and deserves to win a shelf-full of design awards (see below). Finding them a designer home would also not be a problem.
Unfortunately, the play feels too long (we’d like to have seen an hour or so cut) and would’ve benefitted from a new draft but also, we’re sure, a less fraught rehearsal process. The King Lear references seem one idea too many (although they do work wonderfully with the set) and the conclusion seems far too melodramatic.
Before this preview director Michael Longhurst explains Cattrall’s absence and in Dumezweni’s defence the protagonist in this piece is a Titanic part in every sense.
Were awards given for bravery in theatre, Dumezweni would be a shoo-in for all of them. We still have anxiety dreams about being onstage and not knowing our lines. It is just a shame that the writing is not tighter because the perceived invisibility of women of a certain age is a subject which is crying out for coverage. There’s also plenty of fine actresses who could do justice to such leading roles.
The best recommendation we can give Linda is that Dumezweni has already pulled off the near-impossible. Do go and see this as late in the run as possible because by the end we’ve no doubt that her performance will be the stuff of theatre legend. We’d also give anything to see Cattrall perform it one day.
- Pictures by Johan Persson via Facebook courtesy Royal Court. Tweets via the cast.
- Tickets here. Enjoyed this review? Follow its author on Twitter @NeilDurham