Splendour | Red Stitch Actors TheatreLeft – Belinda McClory and Olga Makeeva. Cover – Olga Makeeva. Photos – Jodie Hutchinson

First staged at the Edinburgh Festival in 2001, Splendour by UK playwright and screen writer Abi Morgan (The Iron Lady and The Invisible Woman), sees four women, a photographer, her interpreter, the First Lady and her long-time ‘friend; trapped together in one room of the house of a dictator, waiting for him to arrive for a photoshoot. The country, ostensibly in Eastern Europe, could be in Asia or Latin America or Africa – the story could refer to any number of regimes.

Jenny Kemp directs this Red Stitch production featuring Rosie Lockhart as photographer Kathryn, and Belinda McClory as dictator’s wife Micheleine. References to Micheleine’s collection of shoes and handbags bring to mind Imelda Marcos. The playwright says Splendour explores how the female relationship to male power plays out in a corrupt society, both in the personal and political arenas: Splendour looks at the different ways in which women align themselves with powerful men in a patriarchal system, and the stories they tell themselves about doing so.

Olivia Monticciolo does a delicious turn as anxious and sly interpreter Gilma, ethnically and politically aligned with the regime’s opposition. Aware that revolution in inevitable she becomes bolder as the play progresses, blatantly stealing what she can and lying while she interprets, which adds an element of humour to the script. Genevieve (Olga Makeeva) is an abject character maintaining civility in order to protect her family; she is tyrannised by Micheleine in a dynamic which has its roots in a decades-old tragedy. The action takes place in one room, where a darkened portrait of the dictator hangs on the wall next to a window through which nothing can be seen. There is another painting, one we don't see, details of its origin form part of the history shared by Micheleine and Genevieve.

Soon it becomes apparent that the dictator isn’t coming home. As external events start to overwhelm the situation in the room, the women drink and drink while the play unwinds in a spiral of fear, scenes replaying with increasing tension, putting the focus on each woman’s individual experience. The business on stage becomes claustrophobic and the audience starts to feel as trapped as the characters. Although she’s colluded with a right-wing dictator in her marriage, we see Micheleine’s vulnerability and terror for her family; her final stance allows her to retain her dignity in facing the consequences of her choices.

A strong solid production here, although protracted moments of tense stillness on stage make for a slow ride at times. The weight of story being shared between characters and the circular structure meant I moved between being more or less engrossed, although the mysteries of plot kept me wondering.

Red Stitch Actors Theatre presents
by Abi Morgan

Directed by Jenny Kemp

Venue: Red Stitch | Rear 2 Chapel Street, St Kilda East, Vic
Dates: 15 March – 16 April 2016
Bookings: 9533 8083 | redstitch.net

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