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Review: Chalet Lines

Posted on 05 May 2012 by Laura Turner

A Lincolnshire girl myself, I was mightily excited at the prospect of The Bush Theatre’s Chalet Lines, a new play by Lee Mattinson set at Butlins, Skegness. In case you’ve not had the pleasure, Costa del Skeg is a heady mix of slot machines, deep-fried donuts and ninja seagulls that’ll pinch your chips straight out of the cone. As for Butlins, with its endless water pools, cutprice cocktails at the Friday night cabaret and nuclear bunker chalets, it’s not for the faint-hearted.

Chalet Lines focuses on a family of five women from the North East as they visit the infamous holiday camp over the course of their lives. Led by unlikely matriarch Loretta, there’s the desperate but loveable diva Jolene, the keyboard tinkling Abigail, the mysterious black sheep Paula and the tipsy, anxious Nana Barbara. There are some lovely performances from this superbly strong all-female cast as we meet the women necking pink cava, pushing their boobs up and getting ready to shake their thing with a Red Coat or two for Nana Barbara’s seventieth birthday. Characters are established punchily here, and it’s not long before there are hints of something dark going on under the surface as they wait – and wait – for prodigal daughter Paula to arrive so the party can really get started.

Little could we have known quite how deeply or how quickly things would descend into darkness. Rewinding 10 years or so, we’re back in the ’90s for Paula’s hen night. Loretta’s rowdy, bawdy, overbearing bossiness accelerates at a breakneck pace to a disturbing grotesque of an abusive mother. Monica Dolan gives an energetic performance as this painfully sadistic character and earns herself a gasp or two from a shocked audience. We enter a spiral of domestic violence, but there are elements of a panto villain here as Loretta is so relentlessly cruel. Her vileness is demonstrated but not questioned or explored, leaving the audience asking why she is so heartless. Mattinson alludes to the idea of this behaviour being handed down through the generations, showing us glimpses of Barbara’s rigid, unfeeling mother. Allusions to the past are often made, and the second act even features a foray back in time to the day of Nana Barbara’s wedding – at Butlins, of course. An intriguing choice by director Madani Younis to have Gillian Hanna play Barbara at both 70 and early 20s, but Hanna captures a youthful fear and self-awareness well. Nonetheless, there is a disjointed feel in the emotional journey here. And whose story is it?

An interesting look at the dynamics amongst a group of women knitted together not by love anymore, but something else. Unfortunately, that “something” – that binding force – was rather hard to discern. Chalet Lines seems to be the story of an underdog, of Abigail’s struggle against her mother, but this at times felt forgotten amongst the search for cheap laughs in crude drinking straws, sex education so brief you’ll miss it if you blink and Macarena-dancing. Sadly this is not enough to truly evoke the play’s setting, so rich in colour and interest. Tim Mascall’s witty lighting design does recreate Skegvegas with multicoloured bare bulbs adorning Leslie Travers’ wonky, waltzer-esque set but from a textual angle, the setting feels like a bit of a missed opportunity.

The problem is perhaps the lack of love in the play, which is a shame as contrast would have highlighted Loretta’s hideous behaviour all the more and offset this bleak vision of family life. However, there are notable performances from Robyn Addison and Sian Breckin as Jolene and Paula respectively: both capture with a light touch the emotional core of their characters. These are the two women who feel the most real here; they are sensitive yet strong, beautiful yet flawed, confident yet terrified. Most importantly, they are likeable. Chalet Lines moves back and forth in time too often and too randomly, but there are five solid performances, some brutally cruel moments that will certainly draw a gasp and a real chance for empathy – even if it might not be exactly where it feels it should be.

Chalet Lines was at the Bush Theatre. To find out what’s coming next at the Bush, visit the website here.

Image credit: Bush Theatre

Laura Turner

Laura Turner

Laura trained as a writer with Hull Truck Theatre, BBC New Talent and the Royal Court Theatre. She has worked extensively with touring theatre company Chapterhouse, where she is currently Writer in Residence. Laura has previously written for BBC EastEnders: E20 and her adaptation of Jane Eyre toured theatres with Hull Truck Theatre Company at the start of 2013. She is now working on an original play for the theatre, as well as projects with Bolton Octagon, Middle Child Theatre and The Ashton Group, Cumbria. She has been long-listed for the Bruntwood Prize for Playwrighting and the Adrienne Benham Award.

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On the Chalet Line with playwright Lee Mattinson

Posted on 22 April 2012 by Nadia Newstead

Lee Mattinson cannot believe his luck. His play Chalet Lines is on at the Bush Theatre and his excitement is palpable. The Coronation Street writer has to find time around his full-time job to write his plays and yet still manages to find power in theatre. For him, it is about the immediacy of being in that world with those characters.

Chalet Lines is “about lots of women who go to Butlins… This family go there every single year and it jumps through time and charts three years and three big events that happened in their life, from the sixties up to modern day. It’s kind of about inheritance, emotional inheritance and how dysfunctional parenting can be passed down through generations, and whether you can not turn into your parents, or whether you’re destined to be… as they are.”

Before getting a job running an auditorium bar when he had finished his Fine Art degree, Mattinson had never set foot in a theatre before. “I went to see a play called The Filleting Machine by Tom Hadaway, which is a little North East play. The bar was in the corner of the theatre so when the show went up you just put the shutters down and watched the show. I thought, ‘this is brilliant! I get to watch a show at work.’ It was just a little 45-minute play about North East people around the kitchen table talking about unemployment and I’d not been in a theatre before - I didn’t know you could do that. I was stupid. It was a kind of Educating Rita thing. I just assumed it was for posh people or they’d talk about things that I didn’t understand or that I had no right to go; that kind of naive stupid thing. I was blown away by it because I could relate to every single word they said and I was totally moved. I was like, ‘God, this theatre thing is quite exciting’. Then, I had just started writing. I took a writing course a month before, I was writing prose and then I thought I quite want to write theatre. So I did a free playwriting course at Live Theatre and it taught me everything I needed to know, really, and then I started writing.”

Mattinson’s accent reveals his North Eastern heritage, and this has influenced both what he writes about and the way he works. “I always write about people from the North East because it’s a world that I know, that working class world and what people in that world care about. I’ve done a lot of work with Live Theatre in Newcastle, they have a really brilliant artistic statement. Their audience is predominantly working class people and they started off as a touring theatre and they would make shows about those people. They would go out in the van and just tour round and kept hold of that ethos, they commission really exciting work and it’s lush.”

The process of getting Chalet Lines ready for performance in London has been very different to what Lee is usually used to. “Well normally I love being involved in the whole process, like picking out costumes and all that kind of jazz and I love getting my face in everything because I love that whole process, but because this one is happening in London and I was in Manchester, and I work full time, it’s not been easy to be down there. I’ve only been down to rehearsals for two half-days so I’ve only seen a little bit of one of the scenes. It’s weird, but I’m just going to see it like everyone else does on Friday night but that’s kind of secretly massively exciting. It means there’s not much to worry about really, I’ll like it or I won’t like it. It’s been nice to have that distance from it as well. Normally you’re so in it that you lose that experience that everyone else is getting, so it’s, for the first time, been nice to have that.”

So what exactly is “that”? What is the power of theatre, in our digital age of immediate information and gratification? Mattinson was an art student who came to theatre via prose writing and has now chosen to make it his passion, even though his full-time job is in television. “What a question!” he exclaims. “It’s just a really intense form of storytelling because they [the characters] are right in front of your face. There’s a million magical things that you can do with that. It’s raw, it’s a raw and honest form of storytelling.”

And to make the most of this unique form of storytelling, you have to be yourself and just “write, write, write basically. It takes a long time to find your voice, find your themes, find your characters that you’re interested in, and you only get to that by trying everything out and then realising what you’re good at and what your strengths are. Writing what you know, I suppose, as well because it’s your individual take on something so it’s going to be special. Just make sure it’s your little heart on the page and then it’ll be unique because it’s yours. Just be honest, I suppose.”

For Mattinson, being a playwright in 2012 means pure excitement. “I feel like I’m being allowed into a world that when you think you’re about to get caught out at something, you’re like, ‘Oh, no they haven’t realised that I’m a bit of a fraudster yet, how have I managed to pull that off?’ I didn’t imagine that this would ever happen. The Bush is such an amazing theatre but I just can’t believe that they’d even read my work, so to be producing it is just fantastic.”

Chalet Lines plays at The Bush Theatre, Shepherd’s Bush, until 5 May. For more information and to book tickets, visit The Bush Theatre’s website.

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Ticket Offer: £10 Tickets to Chalet Lines at the Bush Theatre

Posted on 18 April 2012 by A Younger Theatre

The Bush Theatre has got a new artistic director, and now we are pleased to see they’ve also got some student and under 26′s nights ahead. So get your Butlins dancing gear on an grab yourself a great deal of £10 tickets. Details below…

STUDENT/UNDER 26′s NIGHTS for CHALET LINES at the BUSH THEATRE

On 1 & 3 May, the Bush is holding Student/Under 26′s Nights for their current production, Chalet Lines by Lee Mattinson. On these dedicated evenings, The Bush will be offering discounted tickets for students (£10) and a post-show Q&As with the cast and director.

Chalet Lines is an epic comedy drama following four generations of women over five decades in one Butlins chalet. With shockingly funny humour, it asks the pertinent question – can we ever really cut the apron strings that tie us to our parents?

To reserve your place, please quote U26/2012 when booking online or over the phone*
www.bushtheatre.co.uk | 020 8743 5050

*Proof of age required when picking up tickets

A Younger Theatre

A Younger Theatre

A Younger Theatre (AYT) is a platform for young people to express their views on theatre and performance. The site is maintained, edited and published by under 26 year olds who all have a passion for theatre.

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