Thursday, 2 March 2017

Theatre review: Scarlett

Scarlett (Kate Ashfield) is, or at least was until recently, a successful businesswoman with her own home furnishings shop. For reasons unknown, modern life becomes too much for her and she flees London, disappearing for a week before her mother Bette (Joanna Bacon) and daughter Lydia (Bethan Cullinane) track her down to a remote part of Wales. She plans to sell her shop, buy a chapel on a farm and do it up as her new home. One week in the country has made Scarlett a lot happier in herself, and after a bumpy start she's become close to the farm's owner Eira (Lynn Hunter) and her granddaughter Billy (Gaby French.) But Bette and Lydia are horrified with her decision, and are worried she needs to be hospitalised immediately for the sake of her mental health.

And that's pretty much all there is to Colette Kane's Scarlett, a likeable enough one-acter but with little to say that's new.

Of course there's nothing wrong with a simple story that focuses on character, but there's a heavy-handedly familiar feel to this rural idyll and its clash with city folk: Bette is pinched, bitter and suspicious - she's basically Brexit AF - and Lydia a spoilt bitch, in contrast with the salt-of-the-earth Eira and Wise Child Billy. The Welsh family are revealed to have had a lot of problems in their own lives but there's still the taste of a patronisingly simplistic view of their rural lives working the land.

As well as a female writer and all-female cast women make up most of Scarlett's creative team, including director Mel Hillyard and designer Polly Sullivan, who provides another of the solid, elaborate sets we often see in this intimate venue. This is starting to look like a pattern at Hampstead, with the studio space offering up a lot of work by women while men dominate the main stage. I'd like not to see this as a token offering towards gender parity but when the work is as disappointingly slight as this, which struggles to hold the interest for a short running time, it's hard not to.

Scarlett by Colette Kane is booking until the 25th of March at Hampstead Theatre Downstairs.

Running time: 1 hour 15 minutes straight through.

Photo credit: Robert Day.

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