As a freelance journalist, I once interviewed the co-authors of a manual entitled A Guide to Surviving Life as a Mistress, two women who knew exceedingly well of what they wrote, having spent decades as the “bit on the side” to the men in their lives. They were clearly wearied by their experiences but pragmatic and very much focused on the art of survival in the face of an inconvenient, and occasionally tragic, love.
While the provocatively scholastic title – as well as its second-person narrative style and the fact that it was originally published as part of a 1985 book called Self Help - might lead you to believe How to Be an Other Woman is a similar beast, there’s nothing particularly instructive or insightful about it. Its twenty-something protagonist Charlene (“you”) is more beguiled by the initial glamour and clandestine thrill of her short-lived adulterous circumstances – and the fact that she feels a pang at having no one to kiss at midnight on New Year’s Eve is hardly a revelation.
Despite this, as adapted and directed by Natalie Abrahami, it’s impossible not to be seduced by this 60-minute piece, which becomes as much a postcard to Eighties consumerism (with a cracking period soundtrack) as misguided juvenile infatuation. The storytelling unfolds in an upscale boutique, where an ensemble of four elegantly uniformed shop assistants – Faye Castelow, Samantha Pearl, Ony Uhiara and Cath Whitefield – take turns as Charlene by slipping in and out of an expensive trenchcoat, while also narrating and playing the heartbreaker and all other roles.
On Samal Blak’s sleek set of movable clothes rails and picture frames, the shop’s stock of coats, shoes and handbags become versatile props with which Abrahami and her cast create some visually stunning and sexily choreographed set pieces.