Mascha and Vascha

Hanna Pyliotis
Strange Ladies
Camden People's Theatre
(2009)

Publicity photo

Strange Ladies is a Paris-based duo of from Australia and the UK who have created an hour-long gently absurdist piece about two very old ladies who live together. They are not a genteel elegant couple as the promotional image suggests, but fat Vascha (Hanna Pyliotis, with lots of padding and a turban) and skinny Mascha (Lily Sykes with what looks like a box worn on her back and a strange headpiece to make her look thin and angular).

There is no aging make-up, quavering voices or tottering gait though the dialogue tells us that Mascha is over 95 and Vascha probably isn't far behind. It is a game as though played by children and seems appropriate for a couple who seem in second childhood with all the rivalries, petty jealousies, squabbles, tensions and reconciliations of little children and of siblings - which they may well be.

Vascha is the practical one; she does enormous amounts of washing (and hangs it out to dry in idiosyncratic style). Mascha is more of the dreamer, remembering back to the highlights of each year - especially when she was 18 and holding hands with her boyfriend on a park bench or 68 when husband Benny had a heart attack, which though both remember as a big joke.

They mourn the quick passage of time in slow-paced syllables. They compete to talk to a telephone caller from the electricity company (Mascha thinks it is her son Joseph), chase chickens about (giggling like dirty-minded adolescents at the idea of a cock having a premature death) and argue about whether they should go out for a walk. It's clear they haven't for years. Vascha thinks Mascha must have got the idea from too much gazing out of the window. Will they go? But if they did what would they dream about tomorrow?

These are not Stanislavskian performances but a cartoon like picture of a relationship that depends on continual subtle changes in style and meticulous timing guided by director Michiko Miyazaki that takes a new tack every time you feel you have had enough but, by the end of its sixty-minutes, it does seem to have exhausted itself and our interest. It is too long for a revue sketch but never tells you quite enough about these women to develop any concern for them. Who cares whether they go out or not! But I don't think these performers are asking for us to understand two geriatric ladies; they want us to recognize aspects of ourselves in their behaviour.

Until 21st August 2009

Reviewer: Howard Loxton