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Sun Damage
Published on Wednesday, 25 May 2011

2 stars

The Nightingale (venue website)
23-24 May, 7:00pm-8:20pm, 9:00pm-10:20pm; 25 May, 8:00pm-9:20pm
Reviewed by Catherine Meek

 Suitable for age 15+ only.
 World Premiere.

The central theme of the play is potentially interesting: a group of women living together in a rural retreat, separate to the rest of the world and specifically, separate to the male population. We don’t know why they’ve chosen to live that way and, regrettably, this remains largely unexplored.

Less an insight into the alternative culture which might be possible in such a commune, the script seems to promote a chauvinistic view that men are indispensable to women’s day-to-day lives; in this play, women function or amuse themselves in relation to men, or no-men. Right at the beginning, the community is forced to appoint the local ‘cheeky chappie’ labourer to do some repairs at the house. Not one of them can take on this task, evidently; they are too busy dancing and reading love poems.

The production resorts to narrow stereotypes: the community is a group of romantic girls with long tresses of hair. Their white angelic aprons are transparent, and far from virginal. One exception is an angry man-hater with short hair; her protestations on behalf of “strong women” only convey her misandry, although a very odd twist later on reveals her to be lovelorn too.

The girls’ matriarch is 20-odd years older than them, seemingly giving her the authority to guide them – though her wisdom is open to question, since she’s been blinded by the sun and condemned to wearing dark glasses. Nonetheless, she is portrayed as all-seeing and even psychic, though this does not assist her in being an effectual guide. She is only tolerated at ‘circle’, where she leads by lecture and not by inspiration.

In fairness, the men are presented through masculine stereotypes as well. The girls’ adolescent longings ring out when a hairy, battle-bruised soldier arrives – and as if this was not enough they also vie for his attention, satisfying his by now well-established ego but also squabbling amongst themselves as girls are typically wont to do. The extraordinary result is that their mentor decides to leave them to it, and escape to the mountains!

At the end the audience were asked for feedback. There was certainly nothing wrong with the acting – ‘Penny’ and ‘Gemma’ in particular played very good parts, as did both men.  But I recommend they work on their timing; scene changes were very frequent but took too long to set up, and the play ran ten minutes over schedule.

With this script the company probably didn’t have the best opportunity to showcase their talents. Still, I have a reviewer’s responsibility to guide festival-goers through a very full programme of events this month, and I’m sorry to say I can’t recommend this particular show.

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These are archived reviews of shows from Brighton 2011.  We keep our archives online as a courtesy to performers, and for readers who'd like to research previous years' reviews.