Set in the 80s, when the fear of AIDs hit the TV adverts, Women Laughing by Michael Wall is a script about rather heartbreaking situations and context, but is surprisingly woven with humour. The piece is created by the Blueprint Theatre Company, founded by three of the actors within the performance itself (Mark Rose, Mark Sands and Sally Rose). Their history so far has them meddling in artistic fields from writing to directing. However, they’ve put themselves back in the limelight, handing over direction of Women Laughing to Teunkie van der Sluijs. Van der Sluijs’s interpretation sends us back to the disco dancing Night Fever 80s, but leaves the heart, sadly, wanting more.
Women Laughing sees us meet two couples: Colin and Stephanie (Rose and Rose), and Tony and Maddy (Sands and Holly Clark). Act One, set in Colin and Stephanie’s graveled garden (which was highly impractical for wheeling a trolley over) plants the seeds of the male characters’ demise. Whilst Act Two (which was omitted for the radio play and only used in the stage production after Wall’s death) sees us in the future, although how far in the future was not clear – both Colin and Tony were suffering quite severely from their illnesses at this point, but the women seemed to not have changed at all.
The performances and interpretations of the characters didn’t seem well-thought-out at all, but ironically what was most disappointing in the play was the women’s laughing. The laughing seemed forced. The saviour of the play is the writing, carefully crafted by Wall with a script riddled with connotations of disease, mental illness, AIDs, and psychological, mental and even physical abuse. However, one cannot help but think (in this rendition) how much more powerful the play would have been when it was a one-act radio play. The second act lost the realism that Van der Sluijs seems to have been attempting to portray. This was sadly for many reasons, from the set (Anne Gry Skovdal), lighting (Frans Friis) and sporadic sound effects (Emma Bertmark) to the directorial choices. Most disappointingly, it was really because of the believability of the characters. As the play comes to an end I know I should have felt touched, shocked and even heartbroken just from Wall’s writing. However, I didn’t believe the women actually loved their partners and I didn’t believe that the men were mentally ill and unstable, which meant the entire second half was quite outlandish and ridiculous.
It very much felt like the script led the way with this performance as all the other elements (set, lighting, sound, direction and acting) were lacking. Which was a shame. It makes one wonder whether the imagination of the writing originally for radio, hinders the work put on stage. In this case I think it does.
With a script that touches on both domestic issues and mental illnesses layered with a rather cynical humour, Blueprint Theatre Company’s interpretation sadly doesn’t live up to the writing.
Women Laughing runs at Old Red Lion Theatre until October 27 2012. For more information and tickets see the Old Red Lion Theatre Website.