BWW Review: MASTERPIECES, Finborough Theatre
Originally produced at the Royal Exchange Theatre in Manchester in 1983, Sarah Daniels' Masterpieces is revived on commission by Finborough Theatre. Progressive and revolutionary in the past, now it feels sticky and frigid. Its three middle-class couples do a lot of talking but lack action, taking the high road to make a point that's eventually missed.
The unhappy pairs deal with pornography, chauvinism, and the inherent misogyny in the Eighties. If director Melissa Dunne's goal was to make the audience angry, she succeeded in stirring a feeling that makes one want to slap the actors and shake the actresses by the shoulders.
Among rape jokes, sexist remarks, and a general awkward relationship toward sex, the play's double standards are treated blatantly and blandly. The men are free to bash women and make snarky and vulgar comments; the women are meant to shut up and nod in agreement with a tiny smile.
The biggest deficiency of the production is that it doesn't condemn toxic masculinity enough, enabling and validating harmful behaviours instead. Those audience members who are already abreast with feminist issues will be even angrier, and the misogynists won't probably feel anything but validation; and the small section in the programme explaining rape culture, albeit commendable, does little to help.
The company - Nicholas Cass-Beggs, Olivia Darnley, Sophie Doherty, Edward Killingback, Tessie Orange-Turner, Rob Ostlere - looks largely dispassionate, with more than a few stumbles through their lines. Fittingly for the social cage their characters live in, the women are meek and bleak and the men are excessively redundant.
Dunne brings nothing exceptional to the table, presenting Daniel's story but refraining to impart any kind of lesson. While it might have been standard for that period of time, she doesn't do enough - or, actually, anything - to condemn it direction wise.
A mention of honour goes to Verity Quinn, whose set design brings a light in the darkness. She plasters the back walls with covers of porn magazines and puts transparent curtains (that highly recall slaughterhouses) in front of them, which make the imagines blurred and almost indiscernible.
All in all, if seen with the right state of mind, Masterpieces might be a valuable tool for social critique, but Finborough's latest production is quite disappointing in terms of progress.