West Yorkshire Playhouse, Leeds
There is no mistaking that this is a production of An Important Play, a play that Means Something.
It creates an odd sensation in that we can watch the much celebrated, complex first act and appreciate it from a detached distance, but the domesticity of the second and third acts never come off the stage because of the remoteness that first act creates between the audience and production.
Caryl Churchill’s 30-year- old play was regarded as a landmark piece of feminist theatre and set out Churchill’s stall as a woman who would continue to write polemical pieces on sexual politics.
The opening act sees a dinner party staged in what turns out to be an afterlife, where Marlene, an executive from the Eighties (the power suit is a giveaway) is hosting a meal for powerful women from across the centuries.
A Japanese concubine, a woman warrior painted by Breughel and one of Chaucer’s characters make an appearance. It is the arrival of Ruth Elliott as Pope Joan that brings proceedings to life as she hilariously tells the story of giving birth in the street and shortly afterwards, being murdered.
The action switches with a lurch in the second act when we see Marlene, now alive, running a recruitment agency, then in the third act a return to her country bumpkin roots, where a sister and a niece live a dull country life.
The opening act is a marvel, funny and strange, but it makes the following two acts seem dull and leaden by comparison. It feels perhaps the weight of the play’s history is dragging it down.
To March 10.