The Penetration Play
Above the Stag
Above the Stag Theatre (Studio Theatre)
The Penetration Play is the first production on the second stage of Above the Stag Theatre’s new venue and marks a welcome advance in the theatre’s programming.
ATS has long flaunted the claim that it was the UK’s only full-time professional LGBT theatre but its productions so far have been targeted at a male gay audience. This is its first production by a lesbian dramatist on a lesbian theme and the theatre promises that, now that it has two auditoria, it will aim at much wider programming to serve the whole range of the LGBT audience.
That is welcome news, but don’t get the idea that this is a play only for lesbians. Like so much of this theatre’s output, it is relevant to everyone, for its main themes consider the role of social and biological pressures on with whom we have relationships and the age-old problem of being in love with someone who doesn’t love you back in the same way.
If that sounds a bit heavy going—it isn’t. The Penetration Play has a lot of laughs.
Rain (Tayla Kenyon) is best friend of Ash (Miriam O’Brien) with whom she has long been in love, but Ash is hooked up with a man now (she is thinking of babies) and wants Rain to approve him. Whatever sexual hanky panky (if any) went on between the two girls she never took seriously, yet she seems full of criticism of the other girls with whom Rain has had relationships.
The first part of the play is largely provocative banter between them; their goading each other builds to a play fight, but it doesn’t really go anywhere until Rain comes back early and alone from meeting Ash’s potential fiancé. She doesn’t have a key so Ash’s mum Maggie lets her in and the two start talking.
While Maggie is pushing the boy as ideal for Ash, she reveals a picture of her own boring, middle-aged marriage to a husband long lost in snores in the bedroom, a marriage for which she gave up a scientific career, in return gaining a home and children and a role in society. Meanwhile, as they work their way through a bottle of wine, Rain finds herself attracted to this much older woman and makes a pass.
Next morning, it seems the night before has been a catalyst for making decisions.
Winter Miller’s play is somewhat contrived. Like Andrew Beckett’s elegant set, which exemplifies what a conventional marriage brought Maggie but architecturally seems faulted, its dialogue is more clever than convincing. Gene David Kirk’s production gets full-blown performances from his actors and relies on them to make the characters believable, and moves so fast that they gain acceptance, but despite all the carry-on these relationships eschew the erotic and the emphasis is more on humour than on exploring such themes as sex and love not being the same thing and looking back to wonder about roads in life that weren’t taken that are briefly encountered.
First staged in the States in 2004, it feels a bit dated and perhaps needs to be more firmly rooted in a particular period than is given by the lack of mobile phones and some repeated business that treats breasts as an imaginary typewriter complete with a carriage return.
The broadening of repertoire is certainly welcome and The Penetration Play gets an excellent staging but let’s have some lesbian writing that digs a bit deeper.
Reviewer: Howard Loxton