Love, Loss and What I Wore

Nora and Delia Ephron

The Mill at Sonning

From 06 August 2015 to 26 August 2015

Review by Liz Allum

This new production, a UK première, has been produced by The Mill at Sonning, a stalwart of repertory theatre, whose audience are loyal regulars, predominantly hailing from the surrounding leafy and wealthy local area.

Love Loss and What I Wore sees a small departure from the normal repertoire and from naturalistic sets and comedy farces. It is a change that the audience seemed to wholeheartedly embrace.

The play is a collection of vignettes, stories gathered by the Ephron sisters, famous for penning such romantic comedies as Sleepless in Seattle and When Harry Met Sally. It is loosely based on the novel by Irene Beckerman, her autobiography framed by the clothes she wore at pivotal events in her life.

Nora and Delia Ephron take this concept and use stories from their friends and family, as well as some of the original work. It is structured as a series of monologues, but staged almost as if they were conversations, with plenty of interaction between the five women on stage.

The stories, all centred around memories of clothing, are gathered from women across the United States of America, and so there are a lot of prom dresses and Bloomingdales and corners of 6th and Main. But the audience, all of a very similar demographic, seem to find familiarity in it and chuckle at the references to messy handbags and training bras.

Performances from the experienced cast are confident and engaging. I particularly enjoyed Sarah Lawrie's conviction and Rachel Fielding's engaging warmth. However, accents seem to be a stumbling block for the piece. With endless references to North American culture in text and visual projection, the tricky American accents are unnecessary for us to feel the time and place.

This is a straightforward piece of text, with no real surprises or challenges, in a pleasingly simple and well designed set, plenty of humour and delivered with commitment and sincerity.

For me, I yearn to hear women talk of anything other than shoes and lipstick and handbags and men. Apart from one or two exceptions, every story revolves around falling in love, finding the right man, divorcing the wrong man and finding another. I can remember all the names of the men in their lives, and most of the outfits they describe, but I don’t remember a single character talking about their job or career, or any personal achievement other than marriage, divorce or child bearing.

Writing that claims to be something that ‘every woman can relate to’ must have a topic that is truly fundamental to all womankind to make such a grand claim. If they think that caring about the lighting in fitting rooms, or worrying about whether a handbag matches your outfit is universal to all women, then I suspect that the writers have not met a great diversity of women even in the States, let alone worldwide.

This production, and the many others out there, is part of a bigger picture in which women are reduced down to the most trivial of things, or in which women can only talk about things that matter to them under the veil of girly accessories and make-up. One story in the play almost touches on a pertinent and interesting social topic, how women are conditioned to react as partly to blame for sexual violence, but it is a fleeting second before it is quickly swept away by a joke about boots.

Having said all this, for this audience in this theatre, there were plenty of laughs, nods of recognition and a sense of warmth and charm.