Review - Two Ladies at the Bridge Theatre
No, Two Ladies has nothing to do with the wonderful Kander and Ebb song of the same name from Cabaret, with its great repeated refrain: "Bee-dle-dee bee-dle-dee dee". But that line just about sums up my own non-plussed reaction to Nancy Harris's convoluted, frequently far-fetched and straining-at-the-seams new play that shares that song title.
But truth in politics, these days, is now turning out to be a lot stranger than fiction, so this play is already fighting a losing credibility battle as it tries to take us behind the scenes of a political summit being held in Paris. The wives of the American and French presidents are scheduled to host a women's dinner as their husbands try to solve a political crisis that follows multiple terrorist attacks on American soil.
Those details are only sketchily alluded to; this play seeks to make the politics mainly personal as they find themselves holed up together in a hotel conference suite after Sophia, the Croatian-born wife of the American President has her all-white power dress smeared blood red in the protests taking place outside the hotel. As played with poise, glamour and a strong Eastern European accent by the Croatian-born Zrinka Cvitešić - previously an Olivier Award winner for her wonderfully touching performance in the original London transfer of the Broadway hit Once - we are put in mind of Melania Trump, who like Sophia, was previously a super-model.
Opposite Cvitešić is a brittle Zoë Wanamaker as Helen, the English-born wife of the French President, who is some twenty years older than her husband, who met him when she was his school teacher. Cue, of course, comparisons to Brigitte Macron. But if they are avatars for Melania and Brigitte, plenty is fictionalised, too - not least the improbable personal and political battles that rage between them for an increasingly wearying 95 minutes.
They're not the only ones who end up feeling trapped here. As Harris keeps raising the stakes with another corkscrew turn, our patience is quickly eroded. The whole enterprise, as it constantly seeks to pull the rug from under the feet of its characters and re-calibrate the power struggle between them, becomes a kind of fake news of its own; a sensationalist gloss on the surface of a thin, shallow play.
Both performers deliver immensely polished performances despite the mounting improbabilities of its desperate plotting. There's also a lot of surface polish to Nicholas Hytner's production, sleekly designed by Anna Fleischle; but there's very little happening below the surface: an empty play and an empty spectacle.