London, SW11. Battersea. Still gradually being gentrified after a thirty year or so stretch. Swirling around tangentially are four women who have already lived full lives but are not about to submit to anonymity: Claire, ex-wife of an ex-diplomat; Sofia, Italian cafe owner; Sara, New Age-y therapist; Sam, hard-nosed business woman.
The thumbnail descriptions suggest cliché and one dimensionality. Alison Skilbeck, who both writes and performs all the characters, rises triumphantly above both. It seems ungallant to refer to such a sparkling, attractive presence as a veteran but surely that is a part of her strength. She has worked with Ayckbourn and teaches at RADA, just two items on an extensive CV. Her observational skills both as writer and performer ensure that the characters live and breathe. Claire finds new purpose and possibly romance at an art class. Sofia widens her catering horizons and attempts to live a freer life having always been under the suffocating presence of her aged mother. Sara, wounded and seeking to heal herself as much as her clients, is betrayed and reveals a possibly witchy side to her character. Sam regains her self-belief from an unlikely source.
All this is conveyed with great economy of physical resource. Wearing a simple black dress, Skilbeck does no more than alter her hair, change footwear and an extra outer garment to immediately lead the audience into a new character at which point her words and movement complete the picture. There is not a misjudged moment in the play. Jeremy Stockwell directs, well attuned to his collaborator. And no mention has yet been made of how laugh out loud funny the piece frequently is. The struggle in this review has been to avoid the use of the word desperate. These women, housewives or otherwise, are anything but, rising above difficulty and living life on their own terms.
A near full auditorium clapped long and hard at the end which was far less than Skilbecks due. There cannot be a more delicious cocktail of blood, zbaglione, joss sticks and expense accounts available anywhere.