Over at Kilburn for Samuel Adamson’s play about LGBQT+ history, using Ibsen’s The Doll’s House as a jumping- off point. Nora’s plight and decision to leave her husband at the close of that play brings us into 1959, and the dressing room of Suzannah.
Young wife Daisy visits the actress after the show with her argumentative husband Robert. Talk of a garden party and a slow reveal exposes Daisy’s unhappiness and Suzannah’s frustration.
A tambourine becomes a linking device between this scene, and the second act, and the baby Daisy carries in 1959 becomes important to the following stories, set in 1988, the present day, and three decades into the future.
Cleverly weaving stories together and utilising cross-casting to make the most of a small company, Wife revisits many different Noras – the avant garde, the gender swap, and eventually, a return to the traditional.
It slowly develops the stories of those we see – Daisy and Suzannah and Robert, Ivar and Eric and another Suzannah, Clare and Finn and Ivor and Cas, another Suzannah and another Daisy – before going full circle to the garden party which saw the liberated lesbian thespian in Katharine Hepburn slacks and the closeted “invert”, already starting to drink, meet for the first time in a swathe of stage-managed mist.
Juxtapositions can be startling – as when “Smalltown Boy” plays and Eric (“so closeted he’s in Narnia”) becomes transformed as Cas, in a dress, playing Nora, to Suzannah’s almost Elvish drag king Torvald.
Jokes, too, from Lady Diana and Alan Hollingshurst to Elton John’s wedding and “death by buggery”. Fear about catching AIDS becomes flippancy about PREP, and openness becomes domestication.
This is a complex piece, well directed by Kiln AD Indhu Rubasingham and performed by a cast of six in which Sirine Saba’s shape-shifting Suzannah and Richard Cant’s lovelorn Peter and conflicted older Ivar stood out for me.
This is a key play for Pride month, and shows how far we have come, and how complacent we can be. 1959 Daisy has a touch of the hysterics we might associate with 19th century lesbians forced into marriage and loveless sex, young Ivar embraces the sexual freedoms associated with being out and proud, but that’s not all of the story.
Wife continues at the Kiln Theatre until Saturday. While not perfect, it packs an emotional punch and I would recommend it.
Photo credits – Marc Brenner.