As I Like It

Amanda Eliasch and Lyall Watson
Chelsea Theatre
(2011)

It can be hard to review a play. Somewhere, for an undisclosed amount of hours, you know that some poor playwright has slaved away to write something that he or she feels is really worth putting on. You never know how personally they’re going to take your criticism; to some, criticising their play is like criticising them. It gets even worse when the playwright puts themselves in the play; if you criticise the character, you really do seem to be criticising them. I’ve never met playwright Amanda Eliasch, who’s put herself as the only speaking character in the autobiographical As I Like It, and I don’t know whether I would or wouldn’t like her; I did not like this portrayal of herself.

The programme tells us that the play was written in answer to a challenge from her father, Anthony Cave Brown, who Eliasch didn’t meet until she was 22. Her response was to write a play about how his absence in her life affected her.

Playing The Woman, Justine Glenton starts the play by telling us that when she was little she had a box of secrets which she would get into trouble for opening - and she’s about to get in trouble. Considering Eliasch’s unflattering portrayal of her mother, talk of hating her brother, and descriptions of people such as ‘lesbians with hairy legs’, it seems likely. But The Devotee is played by Amanda’s son Charles Eliasch, and the director Lyall Watson is mentioned in the play, so maybe Amanda Eliasch has uniquely supportive friends and family.

She talks us through childhood with excerpts from opera, sung by Susan Parkes, but although her mother was an opera singer and The Woman talks of singing herself, these snippets of song hardly seem necessary, and, with a total of about ten minutes stage time, seems a waste of Parkes’s talent.

After childhood, the main focus of The Woman’s monologue is her various marriages and love affairs. Without much context around them, this quickly gets boring. As she spouts out her reflections on love and on herself - sometimes contradictory - it also gets repetitive and a little self indulgent.

By focusing mainly on the things that are wrong with her life – her lack of love –the monologue becomes a bit whiney; coupled with the unflattering portrayals of the people in her life, it makes it hard to warm to her, even more so when we’re told of the things she’s quickly got bored with and given up. As she lounges in her lavish set of fluffy candelabras (designed by Nicholas Halsam), waited on by The Devotee, we think less that she’s a woman who has everything except love and more that she’s unappreciative of what she has: her son is standing on stage in support of her. Her final admission that she’s ‘fucked up’ incites irritation rather than pity.

The Woman admits that she has trouble letting people get close to her. This shows in Amanda Eliasch’s writing. By not letting the audience get close to her, by hiding behind quips and not taking a proper in-depth look at herself, the play falls flat.

Reviewer: Emma Berge