"A complex, difficult, interesting play"
by Avril Silk for remotegoat on 17/06/19

After watching Cygnet Theatre’s thought-provoking and interesting production of David Mamet’s challenging ‘Boston Marriage’ I sought out reviews of other performances. I came to the conclusion the playwright could be renamed David Marmite, as opinions of his work are so polarised.

The play teems with literary allusions (Genet, Wilde and Strindberg for starters) and is a heady mix of quick-fire banter; religion, philosophy and startling smut, underpinned by vulgar double-entendres. Audiences need to be immensely agile to switch mind sets. It’s a lot to ask to leap from the Bible to Benny Hill. Roxanne Eastaugh (Anna), Harriet Birks (Claire) and Thora Maria Bisted Pedersen (the Maid) resisted the temptation to flag up the crudity by way of nudge, nudge/wink, wink (a personal relief) thus maintaining the pace, but losing some of the low comedy. I think this is a play that works better on the page than on the stage, when you can flip back to check what you have missed. Director Stephen Copp notes that David Mamet stands accused of being unable to write for women, so wrote ‘Boston Marriage’ to refute that. Some may think he succeeded – I’m not one of them. Nevertheless, like the play, the characters are complex, difficult and interesting, and I applaud the company for rising to the challenge – as befits Cygnet students, whose thorough grounding in professional theatre is excellent.

I understand that many women have had to depend on men for financial security – and still do, but Anna’s contempt for her adulterous protector makes her character unsympathetic, as does her attempt to maintain proximity with her young ex-love, Claire, by means of voyeurism re Claire’s planned seduction of an even younger girl. Roxanne Eastaugh subtly shows the older woman trying, with dignity and bravado, to contain being eclipsed, laced with hints of debauchery and excoriating rage. Her treatment of the Maid is shocking to modern sensibilities, but although the past (1910 in this case) is indeed another country, contempt for those who serve has not been eradicated.

During the play Anna and Claire are compelled to face reality and as I understand the ending, their relationship evolves with a welcome level of courage and compromise. As Claire, Harriet Birks has some of the most provocative lines, delivered with aplomb and a cruel, cutting edge. Both Harriet and Roxanne relish the cut and thrust of their adversarial dialogue, rendered with excellent accents, although the softness of the American accent means audibility must be fiercely protected. As they explore the nature of love and lust – and friendship – the camp, brittle banter of lesbian drawing room society a hundred years ago becomes something timely and universal. I was not always convinced of their earlier passion – if just some of the insults they exchanged had come across as endearments it might have helped.

The coldness of Claire and Anna is in direct contrast to the earthy, emotional warmth of the Maid. Thora Maria Bisted Pedersen’s well-rounded performance engages our sympathy during the tongue lashings she endures, and she manifests finer sensibilities than those of her allegedly superior tormentors.

The young cast took on an extremely difficult and divisive play with energy and enthusiasm, ably demonstrating their undoubted potential. They will thrive at Cygnet Theatre and I look forward to watching their careers develop.

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