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Lipstick and Scones

by on 27 October 2017

Pouting and spouting

Lipstick and Scones

by Paul Vitty

Venture Wolf
at Leicester Square Theatre until 26th October

Review by Melissa Syversen

It is great to see young, emerging companies produce new work.  And it is always exciting to be introduced to new productions because one can go in completely blind.  Anything can happen.  But, as with all new thing, it can be a hit or miss.  Venture Wolf’s production Lipstick and Scones, performed at the Leicester Square Theatre, is unfortunately mostly a miss.  To be painfully honest, I am not sure what to choose to grapple with here.

Lipstick and Scones is the story of three very different sisters meeting up at the eldest sister’s house for a weekend to celebrate her recent engagement … her fourth one in a year.  What follows is what I can only call a weekend from hell.  The sisters and their respective partners tear at each other, hurling insults, family trauma and bad life choices at each other seemingly for sport.   It is a weekend spent mostly tearing everything and everyone around them apart with pure, malefic cruelty.

Lip and Scones 1.PNG

I think I will come at this with a view from the writing.  Lipstick and Scones is a one-act piece of roughly 50 minutes.  The main problem here, to be fair, is a classic one.  Writer Paul Vitty has just crammed way too much into the limited time available.  All the plotlines and backstories of alcoholic parents, adultery and sibling rivalry have been shoehorned in between banter, speeches and frankly cruel and vicious takedowns between supposed loved-ones.  I am not denying that family members can be incredibly cruel to each other, but here it is all they are and seemingly without motivation.  There are monologues that feel disjointed and left field, especially a long-running monologue characterising the different British political parties.  It is funny, to be sure, but with only 50 minutes to unpack an entire family saga, it feels superfluous and indulgent.  You can almost hear the turn of the knob as it switches from ‘this is the voice of the character on stage’ to ‘this is the voice of the playwright’.  Bursting as this play is, the result is that the story shifts in jumps and starts and changes abruptly.  There are segments of exposition and character behaviour that just doesn’t make logical sense, like the scene during the night with everyone running around.  It gets to the point of ridiculousness.

A secondary problem of the writing is the characters themselves.  They are so two dimensional and paper-thin that if presented in profile, they would disappear.   In press releases the three ladies are presented as ‘powerful female roles’.  No.  No, they are not.  They are all walking tropes and stereotypes of the worst kind.  Let me present them.  We have Liz, the eldest.  She is the recently engaged, free-spirited, promiscuous, wine chugging one.  (“It feels so good to be naughty!”)  There is the middle child Hattie: the uptight, cold-hearted snob.  And Ellie, the youngest, the fumbling, naïve and fidgety one.  And their spouses don’t fare much better.  In respective order: Robbie, the handsome, sexy fiancé;  James, the older, stiff upper lipped lord and lastly Trevor: the jittery, but well-meaning husband whose idea of experimental sex is doing it with the lights on.

None of the characters seems to have been given any other qualities.  It is all about the acid they can spit at each other within these tropes which makes it very hard to like or at the very least empathise with them.   When towards the end, when we get a semblance of a reason for this awful behaviour, it is too late.  What human charm and dimension there is to be found I suspect comes mostly from the actors themselves, the most successful being Jessie Waterfield as Ellie.   She has a natural and quirky warmth about her I found reminiscent of a young Olivia Coleman.

The one redeeming quality in all of this is that at times Lipstick and Scones are quite funny.  There are some great zingers and quips that land quite well with the audience.  I suspect that is the characters in this piece been given more layers and the direction (also by Paul Vitty) been clearer, even more of the humour could shine through the mess that is this play.  Family dynamics are difficult to capture, but that is also what makes it so fascinating and timeless.  There is a reason why Alan Ayckbourn could write not one, not two but three full length plays about the same six family members over a single weekend in the Norman Conquests (1973).  A 50-minute one-act just isn’t enough time to fully play with the premise presented nor to do the characters justice.  This is presumptuous of me, but I would suggest either cutting down, simplify and streamline what you have or take the leap and expand it into a full-length play.  No more plot is needed, but with that added runtime, the characters can be fleshed out and given time to breathe.  That way the audience could get the chance to get to know them all, and hey, perhaps even like them.

Melissa Syversen

October 2017

From → Drama, Reviews

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