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Review: [Blank], at Donmar Warehouse

31 October, 2019 — By Clair Chapwell

The cast of [Blank]. Photo: Helen Maybanks

[BLANK] took my breath away. I’m a long-time fan of the feminist theatre company Clean Break, having seen shows about women who have experience of the criminal justice system created with deftness, rage and skill.

[BLANK] commemorates Clean Break’s 40th anniversary and is a collection of 100 scenes with a mixed company of 14 women and two girls directed with flexibility and panache by Maria Aberg.

In the Donmar version there are about 30 of those scenes: some desperate women dealt a bad hand of cards; a daughter crashing through the window to take all her mother’s money again; a desperate older mother trying to build bridges with her pregnant daughter by inventing a happy childhood; the fragile waif-like woman explaining to the police officer why murdering her two children was the only way to shelter them from harm.

I watch, I despair, I applaud the play’s bravery to go to these frightening places. I think: “there but for the grace of God…”

And suddenly lights go up on a designer north London flat. Twelve women, confident, middle class, snorting and strutting. The focus is suddenly on those who had a better hand of cards dealt to them.

Dinner Party turns its painful, laser-sharp spotlight on wealthy self-satisfied lefty women, confident of their own political correctness, who know the jargon, the correct movements and marches; who know the surface but not the depth. One of their number has brought home a new girlfriend.

Layer by ugly layer their virtue signalling is stripped bare as their attitudes to class, race and their contempt for their own clients (women in prison) are laid bare: “she’s a f***ing horrible defendant… smiles at the worst possible moment”.

There are 100 amazing scenes written by Alice Birch published by Oberon Books. Clean Break’s intention is that schools, drama schools and theatres use them in whatever order. And a special plea: please, Clean Break, develop a full-length version of Dinner Party. It deserves more airtime in our national dialogue.

Until November 30
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