The Other Line

Tue 18th – Sat 22nd February 2014

reviews

Hannah Greenstreet

at 00:19 on 19th Feb 2014

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The publicity material for The Other Line highlights the shocking statistic that only seven of the past 247 main shows at the ADC theatre have been written solely by women. The new play by Hellie Cranney and Ellen Robertson, which has five complex, sizeable roles for women and an all female cast and crew, is an excellent vehicle for showcasing some of the immensely talented women in Cambridge theatre.

The Other Line is eminently watchable, hilarious and moving. The writing, direction and acting work in harmony to create a piece of theatre in which every member of the company is invested. Mary Galloway’s performance as Madeleine, Kate’s wealthy sister in law is particularly enjoyable. Affording the most comic relief of the play, she perplexes Tash and Clare with offers of Lapsang Souchong, dances around the room and goes to sleep under the table. Hellie Cranney as Kate, Laura Jayne Ayres as Tash, Sarah Livingstone as Clare and Ellen Robertson as Nikki also deserve mention for compelling performances. Emily Burn’s direction makes the most of scene changes and the music selection is fantastic. Anna Reid’s set design, the living room of an expensive house with a four piece suite and walls painted in ‘Cerulean blue’, is lovely, although perhaps the idea of the domestic space is not probed enough by the play.

The writing for the most part is subtle and light. What begins as a recognisable if fraught situation, a girls’ night in with Kate, sister-in-law Madeleine, sister Tash and her (uninvited) partner Clare, becomes more disorienting for the audience. Gradually, amidst the bad dancing, sushi delivery and tequila shots, a sinister reality emerges: in this society all women are fitted with an implant, which prevents them from having children. Women are given a certain number of points, depending upon their income, it is suggested, rather than whether they would make good mothers. Women are only able to have children if they reach the ‘threshold’ number of points by the age of 38, unless they are ‘sponsored’ by another woman who then cannot have children herself.

The terrifying norm of government control over the female body is slipped into conversation, avoiding clunky mechanisms of dystopia. However, more explanation of the details of the system is needed and earlier on to prevent audience confusion and to heighten empathy with the characters’ situations. As it stands, this plot device seems gratuitous for engaging with the gender and class dynamics the play purports to explore and could even seem an obfuscation of the issues facing women in contemporary society. As well as this, the last fifteen minutes of the play ring false. After over an hour of surprising and innovative writing, the play resorts to a rather hackneyed plot twist, which shattered my emotional connection with the characters. The Other Line ultimately retreats from fully exploring the implications of the alternate reality it creates.

Reservations aside, The Other Line is a consummate production of an intriguing new play, which I urge you to see. Although the production has set itself up as part of redressing the gender imbalance in Cambridge theatre, the play itself is not an excoriating interrogation of gender relations. But why should it be?

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