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The Theatreguide.London Review

Shoreditch Madonna
Soho Theatre     Summer 2005

Rebecca Lenkiewicz' new play is set in the slowly-gentrifying East End of London, where some young artists have taken over an abandoned space for a gallery.

They've contracted with a somewhat mythic older artist to give some workshops, and one of his old mistresses has come to see him. There's also a younger woman, loosely connected with the others, mourning the recent suicide of her lover.

Not much happens in the course of the play. The various characters cross paths, some - not necessarily the most predictable - end up in bed together, some secrets are revealed, and everyone's lives are jolted forward just a bit.

It's the sort of play that I hated at the interval, because I was getting impatient for something to happen, but that drew me under its spell in the second half as I realised that character, and not plot, was what it was all about.

Someone says, near the end of the play, that trying is not quite as good as accomplishing, but it still is not a bad way to spend one's life. And the play is about the small ways that these characters try - try to reach out, try to express what they feel, try to connect with each other, try to make it through the night.

And such is the power of the writing and of Sean Mathias' direction that, perhaps a little too slowly, you do come to care about these people and to be happy for their small steps forward.

And that is quite an accomplishment when you realise that most of the characters begin very close to stereotypes and clichs - the callow youths, the randy old boozer, the wise and maternal woman, and so on.

It must be admitted that not all in the cast manage to develop their characters beyond this level, but a lot of the play's emotional power comes from those who do.

Particular praise to Francesca Annis as the ex-mistress, instinctively and unobtrusively tending to both the older man and the younger ones; and also to Leigh Lawson for letting us catch just the barest glimpses that there might be something still alive in the burnt-out old satyr, and to Lee Ingleby for capturing the mix of silliness and sweetness in the most innocent of the younger guys.

Gerald Berkowitz

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Review of Shoreditch Madonna - Soho Theatre 2005


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