You need to arrive early for Gordon Steel's A Pair of Beauties just to read the list of consumer warnings: strobe lighting, photographic flashes, pyrotechnic effects, strong language...
Well, the strobe doesn't happen, the pyro's a damp squib, and who needs warning about photo flash? As for strong language, yes, the letter 'f' does crop up more than at the average vicar's tea party, but surely it's outrageous in 2002 to feign shock at language that has been, however inelegantly, in everyday currency for three or four decades.
Steel, who also directs, has served his time in education and knows his milieu and his characters well. Natasha and Martine are emerging adults, best friends impatient of college and keen to hit the fast track route to fame. They're taken up by Connor, a dodgy photographer (played with icy narcissism by Graham Martin), who promises them stardom but whose project doesn't go beyond getting into Natasha's knickers. The girls are prepared to commit to hard work, but even they hadn't reckoned on dragging up as bananas for a shopping mall promotion. It dawns, as Connor carves another notch on the bedpost, that this isn't going anywhere.
And there it is - an unpretentious rites-of-passage play packed with great one-liners and witty ripostes. But not so simple as it seems because, thankfully, Steel isn't content to portray Natasha and Martine just as foul-mouthed, sybaritic airheads. They are damaged souls who need their escapist dreams.
Natasha, slim and naturally gorgeous, is into drama, preferring the casting there to real life's package of parents who abandoned her and left her in the care of grandparents; and Martine, plagued by irritable bowel syndrome and compulsive eating, yearns for freedom from obesity to make it as a model. Between the two in his wheelchair sits Natasha's Grandpa, crippled with rheumatoid arthritis and haunted by progressive dementia. In the face of the girls' lacerating cat-fights, Grandpa becomes the focus of their fierce loyalty and responsibility, and it is to him that they return for the final symbolic (sentimental and not entirely wholesome or credible) purgation.
Newcomers to the professional stage - Danielle Williams and Natalie Blades - have roles to die for as they head up the cast of this amiable piece, and they gobble them up with energy and panache, to be greeted with spontaneous cheers from a younger audience than even Hull Truck can normally command. As Grandpa, Eddie Caswell is splendidly grumpy in a Victor Meldrew kind of way but sadly looks as fit as a flea and shows little of the desperation that characterises encroaching dementia.
A Pair of Beauties speaks with simple truth of, and to, a generation largely ignored by our theatre: for that reason alone it merits a hearty welcome.
- Ian Watson (reviewed at the Hull Truck Theatre)