Death and the Maiden - great play but great performances?
Inadmissible Evidence: Douglas Hodge and that Dr Who actress

Sister George killed me and not in a good way

Image-18The first half of the 1960s play The Killing of Sister George had me perplexed, sat in a defensive position with my arms firmly folded, occasionally fidgeting in my seat. Not a good sign. The thought of walking out at the interval did cross my mind but I was with a friend.

It's the slight disadvantage of coming to a play cold. All I knew is that a long serving radio soap star was about to get the chop and she wasn't very happy about it.

What I didn't get was the central relationship between the actress whom everyone calls George (Meera Syal) after her radio play character and her flatmate Alice (Elizabeth Cadwallader). I didn't immediately realise that they were a couple what with there being little sign of affection and George bullying Alice and treating her like a doormat.

I couldn't understand why George was behaving so abhorrently towards Alice and why Alice would take it although she is one of those irritatingly childlike characters but forcing her to eat the butt of a cigar for some minor misdemeanor? Even in the knowledge that they are a couple, there was nothing to explain the behaviour.

Cruel can be done with a certain amount of wit, humour and an element of charm, take Butley for example but there was little that was funny here. And if it isn't supposed to be funny (although a quick scan of the official website claims it is) what are you left with? A nasty woman stomping around like a bear with a permanent sore head, railing and abusing most around her, un redeeming and quite frankly deserving of everything she gets.

I liked the first third of the second half a bit more when George seemed to cheer up a little as she became resigned to her character's imminent death and the fans of the show responded with tributes but, it didn't last and the bear soon reappeared.

Too late come some interesting skeleton's in Alice's closet so late in fact I wondered why writer Frank Marcus bothered especially as it wasn't explored and neither did it explain the two's dying relationship.

There was some light relief at the occasional appearance of Helen Lederer as the eccentric eastern European clairvoyant neighbour but that was about it.

If it's supposed to be a play about lesbians then all it says is that lesbians are either very mannish or submissive and girly but it lacks any social commentary so I really don't think that was its aim. Which leaves the ego of actors and in that there is a faint irony.

Perhaps a performance from Syal with a little more light and shade would have worked better and a little less squeaky shrillness from Cadwallender but the latter point is probably more about my personal dislikes. I confess I'm slightly surprised as the director of this, Iqbal Khan, did such a marvellous job with Broken Glass at the Tricycle but then you have got a far superior script and story (and actors) to work with.

It's going to get two and a half stars from me because I just didn't find anything to enjoy or get out of it but it had a nice set.

The Killing of Sister George runs at the Arts Theatre until October 29th - and there seem to be plenty of ticket offers around if you really want to see it.


Was struggling until I realised Iqbal Khan directed this and Broken Glass. Tara Fitzgerald was in BG and has worked with lots of people who've also worked with Mr W. This is a selection I've stolen directly from my BG review: Anton Lesser (BW - The Hour), Pete Postlethwaite (BW - Criminal Justice) and Pam Ferris (BW - radio play King Arthur)