“Helen Ramsay is brilliant as the bolshie good-timer, leaning into a very believable sibling-like petulance”
A and B have been friends for a few years now. Best friends even, and they’ve come to rely on one another for the truth. But B has started seeing someone who disapproves of A, and it’s tearing them apart.
The unlikeliness of their friendship is already in the script: A is rambunctious and charming, whereas B is introspective and uptight. But both love a tussle, and they’re not afraid to disagree, which is, we’re told, the crux of their relationship. That’s all well and good, but we never really get to see the good bits of the friendship, or, in particular, what B has to offer A. It’s hard to know whether this is the fault of writer Mike Bartlett or director James Haddrell, or maybe the chemistry just isn’t right, but ultimately, whilst A is definitely not perfect, B comes across a drag as well as a bad friend, so it’s kind of hard to support the friendship when it seems doomed from the get.
As we’ve come to expect from Bartlett, the script is quippy and clever, latticing political eloquence with nonsense banter. Helen Ramsay is brilliant as the bolshie good-timer, leaning into a very believable sibling-like petulance. Lauren Drennan definitely has the harder job, but despite her seeming fairly unlikeable in her relationship with A, she comes alive when she turns to the audience to speak directly about her choices, which does give us an idea of who she might’ve been when they first met.
But given there isn’t really a set- just a white curtain, and a coat rack- there’s a lot of pressure on Ramsay and Drennan to keep the audience entirely focused and engaged with pure dialogue for just under two hours, which would be a struggle with even the quippiest and most eloquent of scripts. Even a sofa would’ve done, or a couple of chairs, just to give some texture.
Without giving the whole thing away, the ending seems a little overwrought considering the careful nuance of the plot until then. Also, because a suspension cable is required in the last scene for health and safety, Ramsay quickly runs off stage at a crucially tense moment to be clipped on, and the audience is blasted with an angsty soundtrack as the stage momentarily blacks out, as though we might not notice this massive interruption, and I’m left feeling confused and distracted just when I’m supposed to be gripped.
It’s hard not to be particularly critical with a Mike Bartlett play, considering how well received the prolific writer has been in the last few years. But although I wanted this to be exceptional, it’s still very good, with moments of brilliance; a thoughtful consideration of what we expect of our friendships, and how much is too much.
“Hammerton and Champain have fantastic chemistry; their sisterly dynamic highly believable as it fluctuates between highly loving and purposefully antagonistic”
Flushed, the multi award-winning play directed by Catherine Cranfield, is the latest in a line of much needed productions exploring women’s health. We meet two sisters, Jen (Iona Champain) and Marnie (Elizabeth Hammerton), who are best friends. They go on double dates together; they go clubbing together; and they wait nervously on the results of pregnancy tests together. However, when twenty-five-year-old Marnie’s period is late and she is diagnosed with Primary Ovarian Insufficiency (a sort of early menopause), the siblings’ relationship is tested as the younger Jen struggles to comfort Marnie appropriately.
A story told against the backdrop of seven different bathrooms from nightclub to flat, Flushed explores the impacts of the rare medical condition and the desire to fulfil one’s ‘womanly’ purpose of having biological children.
Hammerton and Champain have fantastic chemistry; their sisterly dynamic highly believable as it fluctuates between highly loving and purposefully antagonistic. The pair are also dressed in colour matched outfits – pink and black – which connects them visually. Hammerton delivers a particularly powerful monologue about wanting to be pregnant (with a humorous interjection about revelling in the opportunity to pretend she is fat rather than expecting to overfamiliar strangers) and holding her tiny new-born for the first time between her palm and the inside of her elbow. Champain brings a wonderful humour to the play that helps to lighten an otherwise upsetting subject matter.
The set is simple, and it need not be any more complex. The duo makes good use of the sparse space – two toilets about two metres apart and a neon pink sign saying ‘toilets’ on the back wall – with some mimetic techniques such as acting opening the cubicle door upon entrance and exit. Many women would agree that the bathroom space is often identified as a refuge for female heart-to-hearts so this setting – though slightly comical – is completely understandable.
The lighting (Anthony Englezou) moves between pink and black and fades to darkness between each scene. The sound (Oscar Maguire) is well done especially when the sisters are in a club where we hear pounding but muffled music as if there really is a raging party going on next door.
Flushed explores an impressive amount in its sixty-minute run time. Having not heard of POI before last night, I am so pleased that theatre such as this exists to educate both men and women on little known but devastating health conditions. It is also a joy to see such tender sisterhood presented on stage. Cranfield’s production is an absolute pleasure and will no doubt leave most spectators both highly emotional and better educated.