A & E
New Diorama Theatre, Camden
When Sir Tim Hunt recently spoke to a journalist’s conference about his problem with women in science, he reminded us of the continuing prejudices against women occupying an equal role in society.
Lottie Finklaire’s fine play A & E gives us the young women who no longer believe the old illusions about a narrow domestic role for women but are restless and uncertain about the consequences of this. They know their mothers have failed what one character in the play refers to as that "perfect picture that a man called Walt Disney has been painting since before the 1950s". The trouble is they don’t feel they have anything better.
The play switches between two settings. In one there are three women waiting in a hospital for news of their friend Robyn who is being treated for serious injuries following a fall (or was it a jump?) from the roof of a party. The other setting is the derelict wasteland where Robyn spent the Summer with Jay before she went to that fatal party.
The dialogue is occasionally funny, often quite poetic, and always very serious. The characters performed by a cast of five are very believable as white middle class youth in their late teens.
Robyn’s three friends sit in the hospital waiting room talking about their mothers' defeated lives and the different ways they have sought to escape a similar fate. For Georgie, who quickly gets off with a hospital nurse, one of those ways is sex, which she claims for her is just a way of wasting time and as casual a thing as "getting on a bus or chewing gum".
Ava on sedatives and alcohol is regarded by the others as an oddball who says things without thinking, spends time writing love letters she will never send and has to rush to the toilets to make herself sick. Lex, the daughter of a Russian woman who had refused to follow a conventional lifestyle, tries to make what she feels is the more realistic assessment that they have to get by with things as they are.
When Georgie and Ava try to pass the time by imagining a documentary about themselves, Lex brings them back to earth with the warning that "no one cares about white middle class girls and their problems". But this play does make us care about these people.
There is more of a dreamlike quality to the scenes on the wasteland above the city where Robyn spends the brief Summer with Jay, each giving the other a fragile comfort. Robyn at one point stares down at the darkened city below saying, "Look at it all. It's every broken memory and rusted answer all packed into concrete blocks and patchwork garden lawns. I hate it."
Jay can only agree with her view of what he describes as that "concrete oblivion" but argues for some unspecified attempt at a life of freedom. Neither of them really believes that is possible. Like all the characters in the play, they feel trapped but they also continue to wish that things might be better.
A & E is one of two plays being taken by Hounded Theatre to the Edinburgh Festival Fringe this year as a result of their second play Leftovers winning an award of £4000 from the Scottish Daily Mail in association with Drama UK.
Reviewer: Keith Mckenna