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Black Chiffon

Lesley Storm
Tough Theatre
White Bear Theatre
(2011)

Black Chiffon production photo

This 1949 play, a huge West End success for Flora Robson as a respectable middleclass woman caught shoplifting, is given a suitably period revival in Andy Brunskill's carefully controlled in-the-round production.

This is no court-room drama, we see neither her arrest or trial, but a study of middle class family tensions and mores. Though more than half a century has passed and fewer households now will have a children's nanny who has been kept on as a cook/housekeeper, it could be a picture of many such families today with its fear of scandal, an up-tight father not given to displaying affection and a son who has become the central object of his mother's love.

A modern audience probably has a better understanding of the psychological effect of children leaving to start their own families and won't find the defence being planned by the doctor who is brought in to be a specialist witness in Alicia Christie's trial and other revelations as shocking as perhaps they did when the play was first produced, but the fear of media exposure is still strong, making the dramatic twist in the plot still valid, though surely fewer today would consider it the right course of action.

Maggie Daniels exactly captures the personality of Mrs Christie, with little in her life outside her family, devoted to her children and her duty to a husband who is unresponsive to her need for emotional contact. A scene in which she is interviewed by Gary Heron's doctor is particularly beautifully played; it forms a stark contrast to his interview with her husband. Keith Chanter's stiff-lipped, uncommunicative Robert Christie reveals little to his family or the audience. Only for a moment do we see things from his viewpoint and this could be strengthened.

Nick Lawson as Roy, the son about to be married, and Amy Barnes as his bride-to-be make a delightful couple. She brings a freshness and openness that is like a ray of sunshine in this overshadowed household, and Charlotte Powell as Thea, the daughter who has already got away (though only round the corner), suggests both the concern for her mother which makes her a continual visitor and the comparative freedom her own life now has. Linnie Reedman's Nannie (in white snood or black to reflect the tone of the scene) makes up the cast and is used by the director to bridge the scenes, tidying the room into a suitable state for the next one and keeping the production moving smoothly.

Mike Lees's design keeps a good sense of period with its fringed lamps and carefully chosen costume, though I was surprised to see son Roy appearing in shirt sleeves and braces in front of his father. If this was intended as a deliberate affront on his part nothing was made of it.

Run ends 30th January 2011

Reviewer: Howard Loxton