With a name like Femme Fatale Theatre, I went in expecting some hard-hitting feminist, or at least femme-friendly, fare. Let me be clear, I wanted to be in LOVE with Deckchairs, get married, have four babies, and buy a Range Rover to carry said babies around at the inconvenience of others. It really hurts to report that Deckchairs was slightly flaccid in the bedroom, soft and soap-y; an unexciting, unchallenging Weetabix-bland offering.
The first short play, Early Blight, began with Hazel Bell playing a disgruntled elderly woman, Helen – sour, hunched and knitting in a deckchair. Her bitter exchange with middle-aged daughter June echoes topical debate about the pitfalls of caring for an aging population, along with the perennial sentiment, ‘Mum, you’ve made my life a living hell’. In this case, caring for Helen was definitely a thankless task – in fact, if she were my mother I’d have put her on a life raft and shoved her out to sea, with only a few spools of yarn for company.
Five minutes later it was over, and I sat wondering if I’d fallen asleep or whether the plays were designed to mimic advertisements. The second short play, Day Trippers, was a bit like watching Eastenders on location in Blackpool. Only I don’t watch Eastenders so I may be doing someone a disservice. Beryl is the Mary to Doris’s Rhoda, the self-proclaimed man-magnet who has taken time out from the seaside work do to impart wisdom and steal snacks from her less experienced, less attractive side-kick. These characters took awhile to develop – the dialogue obscuring immediate characterisation, which could have been boosted (and funnier) if done with more outlandish costume. It was humorous in parts – particularly when recounting gossip on the coach ride like horny, vicious thirteen year olds – but the build-up to jokes lasted longer than the pleasure of the jokes themselves.
The actors did a fine job with the limited resources the Marlborough stage offers – the performances benefitting from camaraderie and trust that can often be lacking, even with well-acquainted co-stars. You sense the actors’ friendship surpasses anticipatory comedic timing, which goes some way to elevating the work. Somehow this even weaves its way into the antagonistic onslaught that Helen reaps onto June in Early Blight. The material was, though resonant, lacking in pathos, occupying some cloudy middle-ground where nothing was sad enough to make the audience empathetic, or funny enough to be side-splitting. Extremes are hard to come by in such short pieces; the source material offered neither time nor space to develop emotional commitment, and even Dame Judy herself wouldn’t have been able to salvage it. I heartily believe in the actors’ ability to make me feel more, so here’s hoping Femme Fatale Theatre choose better next year. Then we’ll give our love another chance.