17 October 2023
Harold Pinter Theatre
4.0 out of 5.0 stars
Lyonesse, currently playing at the Harold Pinter Theatre, is brand new play by Penelope Skinner, tackles some intense themes while asking important questions for our times. The play revolves around women in the post me-too era, women at a crossroads, women having to make difficult decisions.
Elaine Dailey, played by Kristin Scott Thomas, disappeared without a trace 30 years ago. No one knew where she went, many speculated she may no longer be alive. The famous actor had just received stellar reviews for the opening night of her play, but the next day she was gone. Now, after her even more famous partner has recently passed, she returns from the shadows, wanting to tell her story to the world.
Young film exec Kate is sent to Cornwall to speak to Elaine, to find out what her story is. What she uncovers could be a big media circus, but will she find out who is telling the truth, and how to best frame the story for the masses?
It’s a common story on its surface, a woman who had to leave her life behind through no fault of her own, silenced by the casual power of the men in her life. A young woman trying to juggle family and career while her husband does not see the imbalance in their responsibilities. Another woman unconsciously working to uphold patriarchy’s silent power, silencing important voices for fear of consequences.
While the play starts of as more of a comedy, it has some very dark themes to explore with some interesting characters. We get to witness women trying to make their way, weighing how far the me-too era has come, what people will believe and where solid proof is required, which stories are fit to be told to the wider public without severe consequences for the women behind the stories. It’s an investigation of the awkward balance many women find themselves negotiating, not overstepping current social expectations while also trying to make their voice heard, their opinions known.
The play teeters between devastating darkness, slapstick comedy, tiny revelations trying to peek through but ultimately dissipating, and characters who seem to have not quite found themselves yet. This muddying of the waters is a great reminder that we are still working things out, that feminism has a long way to go yet, that patriarchy is still the silent power standing over much of society while those influenced by its power often vehemently deny its very existence.
It is fascinating to watch these women struggle through decisions that seem, on the surface, obvious and easy to make, but have so many deeper repercussions, that they become a burden. It’s devastating to watch these women lose their agency despite their best efforts to hold on to it. This play is a fascinating exploration of modern womanhood, the hidden traps that still keep women in places they do not want to be in, the effortlessness with which patriarchy is disguised as rational reality.
While I have seen that the play has received devastating reviews, I have to say I loved its heaviness and dreariness just as much as its more comedic moments. It may be a polarising play, but its message is still an important one.