You Be Ted and I'll Be Sylvia at the Hampstead Theatre
Wendy Plummer, protagonist of You Be Ted and I'll Be Sylvia, is one of those controversial avant-garde artists derided by the public, but venerated by the art world. During a radio interview she comes across as a prime candidate for Private Eye's Pseuds' Corner, as she describes how she ground down her father's ashes, mixed them with her menstrual blood and daubed them onto canvas.
The play follows Plummer's return to her roots, a northern town, to work on a commissioned feminist artwork entitled 'Women of Wignal', a move that reunites her with her estranged mother Peg, now dying from breast cancer, and acquaints her with day-centre carers Tasha and Stella.
With her affected mannerisms and fondness for artistic hoopla (chocolate penises, vagina paintings), Plummer is an obvious send-up of the Tracy Emins and Helen Chadwicks of the art world; in this respect the play works well - Simon Smith's sight gags and dialogue are often very funny.
But while Smith has a talent to amuse, he also has a tendency to confuse. You Be Ted can't make its mind up what it wants to be. Is it a commentary on modern art, a tale of mother-daughter angst, or an exploration of artistic relationships?
At least part of this confusion stems from Smith's superficial reference to the doomed partnership of poets Ted Hughes and Sylvia Plath. Tasha asks Wendy to be play Ted to her Sylvia, when she composes a poem; Wendy asks Tasha to reciprocate when she, like Plath, tops herself. Since the pair are hardly in a long-term relationship, it is clear that this parallel doesn't really work.
Lacking a real focus, You Be Ted relies on a number of twists to hold our attention - Wendy turns out to have an illegitimate offspring and a fake middle-class accent, and Tasha turns out to be pregnant.
Jonathan Church's cast copes fairly well with all this, especially Mary Wimbush's Peg, and Nichola McAuliffe's spiky, arrogant Plummer. Susan Brown also holds up well as the earthy Stella, but Danielle Tilley's Tasha seems uncomfortable with her Yorkshire accent.
Overall, I couldn't help but wish that Smith's plot had some of the simplicity of Robert Jones's set design. A curved backdrop in the centre of the stage, it swivelled neatly from an old folks' home into an industrial loft apartment.