A Shiny Life For Me!

a personal review blog by Bianca

The Hills of California

The Hills of California
9 April 2024
Harold Pinter Theatre
5.0 out of 5.0 stars

The Hills of California, a new play by Jez Butterworth, premiered in the West End in January. It is set in 1976 in a dilapidated hotel in Blackpool. As their mother lies dying upstairs in the long defunct guest house, four sisters reunite to reminisce about their childhood and familial difficulties.

One sister stayed with the mother to take care of her, never living her own life, too scared to try to change things. Another struggles with bland family life that she no longer feels a part of. The third is in an unhappy marriage with a dishcloth of a husband. The fourth just a distant memory, the one who got away, who moved to America with a dream of becoming a big music star in Hollywood, fodder for rumours and gossip.

As the past of the young girls is revealed, trained from earliest childhood to become a quartet of singers by an overbearing, self-obsessed mother who dreams of a better life for her daughters in a harsh environment with little prospects for young girls. Family tragedies and fights are brought to life, and the supposedly sparkling life of the sister in the hills of California is questioned and examined.

This family tragedy is enrapturing, an emotional journey through trauma and healing, repression and oppression, hope and devastation. The simple set of the public parlour, once a pub style hangout for guests of the hotel, and the private kitchen in which the girls were trained and paraded around, feels homey and oppressive in equal measure. A run-down fragment of a time long past.

The tensions and revelations of this play are without measure, a deep dive into family dynamics and women trying to find their way. A stunning new play with heart and heartache in equal measure.

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