REVIEW – The Revlon Girl at Birmingham’s Crescent is thought-provoking theatre

THE CRESCENT Theatre Company have a knack of finding little known gems to include in their season – up now is ‘The Revlon Girl’  and a sparkling little golden nugget it is too.

On the face of it an unremitting 90 minutes about one of the bleakest moments of Welsh history sounds daunting – but genius scripting by Neil Anthony Docking and intuitive direction from Liz Plumpton cleverly balances misery with mirth leaving us satisfied not sated.

Fifty-five years ago in 1966 above Aberfan village, a name etched on all our hearts of those of us old enough to remember it – a colliery spoil tip, one of seven, like the seven gates of hells slid down the hill in a deathly black column of slime. It engulfed all in its wake including a school. 116 children and 28 adults died on that dreadful day.

The Ron Barber studio is transformed into the bare boarded function room and as we enter, a small monitor high up on a wall shows scratchy austere monochrome footage of the village and the period.

The lights dim to blackout and we hear rain amidst the playful sound of children’s voices. Then a rumble growing ominously into a ceaseless roar as the tragedy is relived in our minds. Then there is silence.

However, Docking’s play is not about the Aberfan disaster – Plumpton has cleverly dealt with that in the darkness – no we are concerned more with the aftermath.

It’s eight months on and we are about to meet Sian of the smiling face – she enters the function room, and turns on the lights, then takes a bucket and mop to the rainwater coming in the skylight. Sian is played with an infectious naughty Tinkerbelle – like gait by Charlotte Hurst.

She is the first to appear of this quite exceptional company of five women. All carefully crafted individuals with separate personas and stories yet united as a team to tell us the bigger story.

The ladies, who we learn have all lost children in the disaster, meet once a week in this room to laugh, cry and support each other. They have agreed to invite a cosmetic demonstrator in that evening to give them all the guilty pleasure of a makeup makeover.  The idea here is that however dark the starting point there is a time to turn to the light.

In addition to Hurst’s Sian the other mothers in the group comprise Naomi Jacobs as the guilt-ridden, brooding Marilyn; Jenny Thurston flaunts her pregnancy like a flag of independence as Jean and the foul-mouthed Rona is a deliciously welcome outing by Katie Merriman.

Femke Witney who is referred to simply as ‘Revlon’ by the others, plays the title role. Witney cleverly keeps one side of her personality in reserve until she finally explodes in a passionate tour de force that heralds a new dawn for them all.

Costumes by Stewart Snape are as always spot on – Revlon’s black and white woolly two-piece suit stood as iconic sixties chic.

The sound design by Ray Duddin is quite remarkable – one live effect in particular as the play draws towards its climax is a haunting drip-drip of rain seeping through the roof and striking the pan Sian had put there to catch it. This noise brings us full circle as we think of the rain that caused the tragedy.

The whole cast put in ‘A- lister’ performances, and the writer should be well pleased how well the director has told his story. We were left with much to think about and discuss. The Revlon Girl is a great nights theatre with a voice that deserves to be heard.

The Revlon Girl.runs until Saturday, October 30. Click here for times, tickets and more information.


Review by Euan Rose.

Euan Rose Reviews.

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