The Theatreguide.London Review
Stas and Vi
Finborough Theatre Summer 2013
Some plays are so much of their time that revivals threaten to turn them into archaeological artifacts.
In 1976 Pam Gems' portrait of four women was a where-we-are-now-and-how-far-we-have-to-go feminist critique of some power (though my old notes remind me that it didn't work for me). Today it has an almost documentary feel to it.
Four women share a flat. Dusa is a divorcée whose husband has absconded with the children, who she spends the play trying to get back. Fish is a Hampstead socialist, an ardent feminist who spends the play yearning like a lovesick teenager for the guy who dumped her.
Stas is a hospital worker who moonlights as a whore to raise the money to move to Hawaii and study marine biology, and Vi is an anorexic and agoraphobic teenager who is prescribed antidepressants midway through the play and Hey Presto is happy and functional.
That a woman's life is not a simple or happy one is abundantly clear, but one problem, in 1976 and now, is that Gems' machinery shows through too baldly.
The play suffers from the American World War II Movie Syndrome. Remember how every platoon had one guy from Brooklyn, one from Texas, one college boy, and so on?
It is a little too obvious how hard the playwright is working to squeeze in every aspect of the 1970s female experience, a little too unlikely that these four women would be in the same room. And paradoxically and ironically that can make us aware of how much Gems is leaving out, as her four are all so very very middle-class.
Another irony, which Gems probably was aware of back then and which stands out now, is that the women are far more trapped by biology than social sexism.
Fish defines herself by her need for a particular man, Dusa by her motherhood. Vi suffers from (and is a bit too easily cured of) two typically female mental illnesses, and Stas, the most successfully functional of the four, has only one tool to use to gain her goals.
Gems doesn't go quite so far as to say that social sexism is not the problem after all, but there's a paradox there that the play wrestles with.
The director of this revival, Helen Eastman, allows her four actresses to perform in entirely different modes – a Bette Davis imitation here, naturalistic underplaying there – so that they sometimes seem to be inhabiting different realities, and she unwisely rushes through a final scene that wants time to be absorbed.
Except for the fact that they too rarely connect with each other, there are strong individual performances from, in titular order, Sophie Scott, Olivia Poulet, Emily Dobbs and Helena Johnson.
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Review - Dusa Fish Stas And Vi - Finborough Theatre 2013