Boston Marriage Review Donmar 2001

Wednesday, 5 December, 2001

This production of David Mamet’s play premiered in the UK earlier this year to mixed notices from the popular press. It has now transferred to the New Ambassadors Theatre with the original cast and as I missed it last time I caught up with it last night. I can say it is a delightful hour and a half of witty one-liners delivered at breakneck speed.

The term 'Boston Marriage' is 19th century slang, for the implied relationship between women who lived together, independent of men, and so Mamet’s play concerns the shaky and complicated relationship between two Victorian woman.

Anna is having an affair with a married man so she can be kept in the lifestyle she is used too. However tensions rise when her female lover Claire falls for a younger woman. A farcical battle of wills ensure as Anna is jealous of Claire’s ‘good fortune’ and when Anna’s affair is found out both their futures are uncertain.

The play has a lightweight plot, but makes up for it with some brilliant one to one dialogue that is penetratingly funny, vicious, crude, camp and biting in a power game between Anne and Claire. However, this did become tiring at times because of the thin plot.

Zoe Wanamaker holds the whole play together with her piercing facial expressions, camp droll posture and perfectly timed delivery. Anna Chancellor as Claire compliments beautifully as a straight-laced partner creating a tantalising double act, if it was one? I say this because Lyndsey Marshall is superb as Catherine the naive maid who gets caught up in the middle of their wrangling. This is a truly great cast that bring out the best in Mamet’s funny and pungent conversational piece, directed with zest by Phyllida Lloyd.

The show has again received mixed notices from the popular press... RACHEL HALLIBURTON for THE EVENING STANDARD says, "The main problem is that its characters are armed with so many witticisms, it is impossible to penetrate the verbal weaponry to appreciate the true human beings." BENEDICT NIGHTINGALE for THE TIMES says, "A bit of a camp squib." He goes on to say the cast is "Terrific", but the "play isn’t". CHARLES SPENCER for THE DAILY TELEGRAPH says, "This is a 20-minute revue sketch stretched out over 90 minutes, and, though the acting is outstanding and Phyllida Lloyd's direction deft, I was almost screaming with boredom long before the end." PAUL TAYLOR for THE INDEPENDENT says, "In Phyllida Lloyd's captivatingly tart production, you get a wonderful performance from Zoë Wanamaker." JOHN THAXTER for THE STAGE says, “The plot may be gossamer thin, the comedy springing from the sly disjunctions. But this is a brilliantly acted, deliciously entertaining diversion..."

The story could have had more depth and explored the characters more, but the short running time (played without an interval) and the pace of the play saves it from becoming shallow.

(Darren Dalglish)

Production photo provided by EPO

Links to full reviews from newspapers...

Daily Telegraph
The Times
The Independent
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