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3 Women (Susan Elkin reviews)

Stage Traffic Productions. Trafalgar Studios

Katy Brand’s debut play shows a phenomenal talent for dialogue writing. And in the hands of three actors are talented as Anita Dobson, Debbie Chazen and Maisie Richardson-Sellers (with Oliver Greenall as the waiter) directed by Michael Yale, it’s a sure fire winner.

Suzanne, 40 (Chazen) is to marry tomorrow. Her generous, decent fiancé has paid for her to have a night in an expensive hotel with her mother (Dobson) and eighteen year old daughter (Richardson-Sellers). The play then spends its 80 minutes – which feels like much less – exploring the complex relationship between the three of them and unravelling a great deal of family history and baggage along the way.

It’s strong too on the opportunities women had, have, might have – or not – ranging from Dobson’s character recalling her grandmother who campaigned with the suffragettes to Richardson-Sellers as Laurie idealistically anticipating a gender-free future for the human race. Billed as a comedy, 3 Women is belly-laugh funny in places. It’s also a very thoughtful play which eventually becomes deeply moving.

Dobson is an extraordinary actor. She did the best wicked queen in Snow White I have ever seen at Tunbridge Wells. I still measure all other wicked queen’s against hers. And she was a fine Gertrude in Hamlet as well as her EastEnders role and masses of other theatre. In this show her character is brittle and she drinks. On the surface she’s an ordinary 60 something widow left reasonably well off and definitely not “letting herself go”. Gradually we realise that she has felt unfulfilled all her life and is desperately disappointed in the daughter who has, in her mother’s view, wasted her opportunities. Dobson has a wonderful knack of delivering bitchy lines with deadpan rapier timing. Yet she also gets our sympathy. At one point she turns away from the others and stares into the corner of the auditorium with audience within an arm’s length, silent and shaking. You can see her thoughts on her face. Then she weeps. She even manages to smudge her mascara. It’s a masterclass in convincing acting.

Chazen plays off her beautifully. She is, in contrast to her mother, bosomy, comfortable and “into” new age life style and counselling. But she too has demons to deal with including having grown up with her difficult mother and having had a child as the result of the very brief relationship when she was 22. Chazen’s silent looks often convey as much feeling as half a dozen sentences of dialogue.

Meanwhile Richardson-Sellers is very calm, poised and mature as Laurie – trying to keep the peace between her mother and grandmother. We then see a different side to her when first when she tells her mother something she knows Suzanne would rather not hear and then when – nice bit of sit com for light relief – she has a quick one with the waiter. It’s a nicely nuanced interpretation of character.

Because Trafalgar Studios’ Studio 2 is so small and intimate, 3 Women feels in scale almost like fringe theatre until you remember that you’re in the heart of the West End, watching a top notch cast and sitting alongside three household name critics. It is actually a play with real weight and I predict that it has a rosy future.

 First published by Sardines


Author information
Susan Elkin Susan Elkin is an education journalist, author and former secondary teacher of English. She was Education and Training Editor at The Stage from 2005 - 2016
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