This houses the opening dinner party and is then stripped down, as we watch, so that its stark, modernist furniture devolves into the employment agency where Marlene has just been appointed managing director and then to her sister Joyce's run-down Suffolk home. The formal chairs of the diners are ranked either side of the now-stilled revolve; actresses not directly involved in the scene being played out sit on them, and wait.
It works very well. Without the projected potted biographies of the dinner-party guests, all those overlapping narrations in the first scene would be even more bewildering and difficult to follow than Churchill has made them. Shuna Snow makes much of Pope Joan's ultimately moving as well as harrowing recounting of her downfall and Kristin Hutchinson is convincing as Victorian explorer Isabella Bird.
The scene between stay-at-home Joyce and high-flier Marlene is finely paced by Hutchinson, increasingly bitter as her years of frustration finally boil over, and Gina Isaac's beautifully detailed Marlene. She inhabits the career woman to a degree where we cannot withhold understanding, even if our actual liking for the character is in short supply. The teenagers, slightly retarded Angie and tomboy Kit, bounce into real life as played by Clare Humphrey and Amy Stacey.
Amanda Haberland as the imperial
concubine Lady Nijo and Nadia Morgan as docile too-patient Griselda
translate themselves effortlessly into the 1980s Win, Nell and
Janine, three women with bright aspirations but less inspiration. Hutchinson, incidentally, completes her hat-trick of
characterisations with a fine sketch of Mrs Kidd, wife to the man
Marlene has just displaced, whose plea for the restoration of his
lost dignity inevitably falls on unresponsive ears.