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The Revlon Girl

by on 24 February 2020

Bonded in Grief

The Revlon Girl

by Neil Anthony Docking

Teddington Theatre Club at Hampton Hill Theatre, until 29th February

Review by Melissa Syversen

On 21st October 1966, at 9.15 in the morning, 150 000 tonnes of mining slurry came down from the mountain and crashed into Pantglas Junior School and the surrounding buildings. 144 people lost their lives. The Aberfan disaster is still well known in Britain. Recently the incident was depicted on an episode of the Netflix series The Crown renewing awareness of the tragedy amongst a younger and larger international audience. The disaster remains a stark reminder of the importance of health and safety regulations and the dangers of putting profit above human beings. Aberfan wasn’t the first tragedy caused by corporate ineptitude, greed and systemic negligence and unfortunately has not been the last. It is important to continue to tell these stories through media such as The Crown and The Revlon Girl, and to hold those responsible to account so that we can minimize the chance of future disasters.

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The effects that that terrible day had in the Aberfan and the surrounding areas cannot be understated. It effectively robbed a close-knitted community of an entire generation. Of the 144 killed that day, 116 were children aged three to fourteen years. How does anyone manage to go on after trauma of that magnitude? In the months following the tragedy, a group of bereaved mothers organised to meet once a week, to talk, grieve and support each other in a private environment, away from prying eyes, the media and dare I say it, tourists. The Revlon Girl imagines one of these meetings eight months after the event. Inspired by a true story, the title refers to a Revlon representative whom the women secretly invite to one of their meetings to give them some beauty tips. Through this narrative lens, Welsh playwright Neil Anthony Docking has found a beautiful opportunity to not only tell the story of the Aberfan disaster, and the immediate aftermath but also the long term effects of trauma and grief.

In a room above a pub, with a leaking skylight, we meet four of the mothers who have lost one or several of their children. There is the good-natured Sian (Lara Parker), the brash Rona (Hannah Lobley), the vicar’s wife Jean (Jenna Powell) and the quiet Marilyn (Julie Thomas). They have all suffered great losses, and each carries their pain in a different way, be it through faith, mediums or indignant rage. Though they are still struggling to cope, that doesn’t mean that there aren’t moments of normality, of laughter and even of cruelty between the women. Having grown up together, they know exactly what buttons to push when they want to hurt, they bicker and fight viciously. But within that, there is also aching vulnerability and affection towards another that only comes from lifelong friendships. And most importantly, they are there for each other, week after week. Having volunteered for the assignment, Charlotte, the titular Revlon Girl (Rachel Burnham) does her best to navigate in this dynamic. Akin to a deer trapped in headlights, she is acutely aware of what these women have been through, and genuinely wants to help in whatever way she can.

It is clear that the cast and crew of The Revlon Girl care deeply about the material at hand and they treat it with great respect and sensitivity. Rising to the challenge of the Welsh accent, the performers are all on pointe and portray these women with empathy and heart, but also do justice to the humour and anger present in the text. What the writing, the cast and director Kelly Wood are so successful at capturing in The Revlon Girl is the everyday, almost humdrum quality of grief. Yes, there is pain and anger, but there is also laughter and comfort. These women have lost, and yet they carry on as best they can. The Revlon Girl is a moving, heartfelt piece of theatre and I’ll admit I shed a tear more than once.

Melissa Syversen
February 2020

Photography by Jojo Leppink, Handwritten Photography

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