Wednesday, 10 July 2013

Theatre review: Dusa, Fish, Stas and Vi

PREVIEW DISCLAIMER: Official critics have not yet been invited to review this.

Considered a bit of a feminist classic but not revived for decades, Pam Gems' Dusa, Fish, Stas and Vi follows the titular four women sharing a small flat. All are strong-willed and appear liberated but each has her problems holding her back: Dusa (Sophie Scott) is trying to get her children back after her ex-husband ran away with them to Argentina. Stas (Emily Dobbs) is a hospice nurse with a sideline in prostitution and a knack for shoplifting, saving up to study Marine Biology in Hawaii. The tiny Vi (Helena Johnson) is obsessed with yoga and vegetarianism, to the point that it's become an eating disorder and she barely eats any more. On the outside, Fish (Olivia Poulet) seems the strongest of the quartet, a working woman and Union representative, she's a public speaker campaigning for equal working conditions and pay for women.

But Fish may be the most damaged of them all: Her involvement in the Union began with her relationship with another member; when he leaves her to marry another woman, Fish's behaviour becomes stalkerish. Olivia Poulet is very good as ever, with the other women also giving strong performances - although Scott's somewhat monotonous drawl make it hard for me to like Dusa, she does do rather well with the character's frequent, violent changes of mood depending on the latest news about her children. Johnson meanwhile makes Vi fragile but with a sometimes vicious bite, and Dobbs' Stas is overtly sexual (complete with getting herSEVERE VADGE WARNING!out) but not as remote and uncaring as Dusa takes her for.

Katie Bellman's set evokes the 1970s in all their brown, orange and lime green horror, and also makes the surprisingly rare choice to use the Finborough's real window to bring some natural light to daytime scenes. Whether it's the script itself, Helen Eastman's production, the fact that it's still early in its run - or most likely a combination of all three - there's something about the pacing that's a bit off. Most scenes just sort of stop and fade away, and although by the end there's an overall picture of the arcs these women's stories have taken, while watching them take place I was never entirely drawn in.

As a piece of feminist writing Dusa, Fish, Stas and Vi still packs a punch in its picture of the various other problems women have to juggle with any fight for equality; as a piece of drama I didn't feel it had aged as well.

Dusa, Fish, Stas and Vi by Pam Gems is booking until the 3rd of August at the Finborough Theatre.

Running time: 2 hours 10 minutes including interval.

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