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Review: EVELYN, Southwark Playhouse

Mysterious woman pitches up in seaside town as local paranoia whips up vigilante justice

Review: EVELYN, Southwark Playhouse Review: EVELYN, Southwark Playhouse As Jonathan Meades pointed out in relation to architecture, seaside towns are scenes of transgression, liminal spaces where land meets sea in jagged, windy, subsiding disorder and normal rules do not apply. Either side of the Second World War, families would visit for a day trip or a Wakes Week, wear 'Kiss Me Quick' hats, enter 'skin to win' beauty contests in those straitlaced times, and see themselves reflected (as is so in fairytales) in violence and death presented as entertainment.

We get a recurring Punch and Judy framing device in this play (though once would have been enough) as Tom Ratcliffe takes us to Walton-on-the-Naze, a small town on the Essex coast, north of Clacton (and we thought that was 'left-behind'). Sandra, 30-something, one suitcase in hand and with no discernible past has rented a room off Jeanne, an ageing hippie running a scam out of her sheltered housing) and is unease, evasive and deceitful.

Laura, Jeanne's nurse, becomes even more suspicious of Sandra's motives when she learns that a notorious accomplice to a child-killer (think Maxine Carr at Soham, 90 minutes away) may be in the area. She's not best pleased when her nice but dim brother, Kevin, takes up with Sandra and Jeanne's dementia deteriorates still further.

Rula Lenska stays just the right side of hammy in turning the lonely pensioner stereotype up to 11 in the first half and is thus able to extract significant pathos from her descent into dementia's appalling confusions later in the play. She disappears too soon from the story. Nicola Harrison is also just right as Sandra, all sideways glances, hesitancy and bruised self-esteem, but impulsive, vulnerable and charismatic too. Is she hiding her true identity? Is she really the infamous Evelyn?

Yvette Boakye lends a real menace to Laura, sucked ever further into paranoia by social media's whipping up of the tiniest of coincidences into evidence that her child is under threat and that Sandra is actually Evelyn. Offue Okegbe does all he can with Kevin, but it's an underwritten part one feels added to add another fracturing family relationship into a play well-stocked with such already.

Ratcliffe has a super premise, (it's surprising that vigilante mobs haven't been a more common subject for drama, but I suspect theatres are a little wary of highlighting the dark side of working class culture) but he fails to solve the structural problems his plot sets up. A nurse would not be able to evict a tenant summarily (as Laura does Jeanne), still less pack her off alone to a daughter she knows to be neglectful. Police would not be as uninterested in large groups repeatedly congregating outside individual's homes after online threats and loose chat in a busy pub. The missing girl subplot is too swiftly resolved in the most predictable way and Michael Crean's Tiger Lilliesish musical accompaniment doesn't really go anywhere.

There's a better play buried somewhere in the near two hours running time of Evelyn, one more tightly focused on the awkward ménage-a-trois between the three women more closely unpacking their mutual suspicion and the retreats from reailty into uncomfortable mental states. As it stands, the play counts as something of a missed opportunity, for all its initial potential.

Evelyn is at Southwark Playhouse until 16 July

Photo Credit: Greg Goodale

From This Author - Gary Naylor

Gary Naylor is chief London reviewer for BroadwayWorld ( and feels privileged to... (read more about this author)

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