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A Daughter's a Daughter

Agatha Christie, writing as Mary Westmacott
The Agatha Christie Theatre Company
Trafalgar Studios, London
(2009)

Production photo

It's always an extra special pleasure when you go to the theatre and think you're going to hate a play after the first five minutes, but by the end you've absolutely loved it. This was definitely one such evening.

Agatha Christie, writing as Mary Westmacott, penned this drama in the 1930s but it wasn't produced until 1956. Here, in its first full scale revival, we see a fascinating, psychological portrayal of widowed Ann Prentice (Jenny Seagrove) and her only daughter Sarah (Honeysuckle Weeks) and how their intense relationship unravels.

The action takes place at first in 1945 when Sarah returns home from ATS service only to find her mother's new man, Richard Caulfield (Simon Dutton), firmly established with her mother and ready to marry her the following Tuesday. However, single-minded Sarah doesn't like change and she quickly drives a wedge between the couple. The incessant rows are too much and Ann finally gives up Richard, because, after all, 'a daughter's a daughter'.

The second half takes us to three years later and both mother and daughter are leading frivolous lives, fuelled by a significant amount of cocktails and some unsavoury male company. Neither are happy, and, when Sarah asks her mother's advice on whether to marry the seductive but threatening Lawrence Steene (Martin Fisher), it's plain that Ann can neither engage nor care, with old resentments still festering.

Whilst the classic 1940's accents and turn of phrase take some moments to adjust to, with the opening resembling something of a drawing room delineation of manners, this is far from the frightening reflection we see by the end. What makes director Roy Marsden's production so brilliantly timed is the comment it makes on today's stay-at-home sons and daughters, and the extension of childhood. When Sarah puts her foot down and refuses to move out to live with a girlfriend as her mother's intended first suggests, she acts like a spoilt child wanting to have her way at the expense of her mother's happiness. However, as the piece develops we see the scant hold of discipline that Ann barely holds over her daughter, and at best, can only enforce out of a now burning bitterness. Has her own martyrdom brought her nothing but a selfish, indulgent child?

What makes this more poignant is the real-life background of the authoress' own sometimes strained relationship with her only daughter. It is plain that this story's source material must have begun as germs of experience between mother and daughter and the pains of divorce and remarriage. Jenny Seagrove is excellent as the strained and sensitive Ann, but it is Honeysuckle Weeks who really stands out, captivating for all her self-centred scenes. Supported by a fantastic cast (especially Tracey Childs as Dame Laura in an ever increasing array of stylish hats) this is a fine piece of drama at the centre of London.

What we teach our young and how we treat others when we have power over them can never be questioned enough. While others may be putting on the razzle-dazzle for Christmas show-business, The Agatha Christie Theatre Company quietly burn with brilliant intensity to show pain where we need to examine it most: between parent and child.

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Reviewer: Sacha Voit