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Theater Review (London): Untitled Matriarch Play (or the Seven Sisters) at the Royal Court

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Good roles for female actors are hard to find, but like London Tube trains, in one play, Untitled Matriarch Play (or the Seven Sisters), playing for this week only at the Royal Court, seven come along at once.

Playwright Nikole Beckwidth has given the fine cast – who are playing in ensemble with six plays over seven weeks – one can only hope there are this many good women’s roles in all of them – a comic but not light piece that they can really get their teeth into.

A dysfunctional mother, powerfully played by Siobhan Redmond, has gathered her four daughters together, all childless, all hopelessly self-centred and dysfunctional each in their own way, to tell them that she’s finally going to make her life complete, through having a son through a surrogate mother.

This is a true ensemble piece – each character has, literally, their time in the spotlight, but there’s also plenty of opportunities for multi-actor mayhem as the family, and surrogate, gather in the family living room, and rapid-fire two-handers, as they interact in turn.

The subject is well, life really, particularly female life, aging, dissatisfaction with your lot in life, and the difficulty of changing it. Sometimes the gags are a bit on the obvious side – Anna Calder-Marshall as Grandma Sylvie has some powerful monologues, but some of her misunderstandings through deafness or confusion are on the groan-inducing side.

Some of the gags, particularly those focusing on the restrictions on female roles, however are laugh out loud, if bitterly, funny. “You don’t even like any of the children you have. All the more reason to have another.”Then determined single and sexual, body-obsessed Mimi (Natasha Gordon): “You have kids and everything you own is sticky.”

And there’s an excellent topical gag about 15-year-old Beckah, convincingly played by Farzana Dua Elahe, not reading her emails.

The play is a long single act of one hour 40 minutes – no readmittance we’re firmly told at the entrance. But it held a near-packed audience tonight tight in its grip – there was little shifting of buttocks or rattling of bags. I did wonder if it might be considered a bit too overpoweringly female for some of the audience, but overheard comments from male audience members on the way out were universally glowing.

And if the ending is a bit too tight and neat, and way out – as is the whole frame really – well this production is so well put together, amazing in the apparent week’s rehearsal, that the cast pull it off.

One to see if you get a chance.

The play continues at the Royal Court until July 13.

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About Natalie Bennett

Natalie blogs at Philobiblon, on books, history and all things feminist. In her public life she's the leader of the Green Party of England and Wales.