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After Electra (Theatre Royal, Plymouth)

Samuel West directs April De Angelis's engaging new play exploring the meaning of family

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
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Birthday bumps: The cast of After Electra
© Steve Tanner

April de Angelis (Jumpy, A Gloriously Mucky Business) is back on theme - feminism and motherhood - with the Theatre Royal Plymouth production of After Electra, a pacy family life introspective loosely adapted from Sophocles.

Acerbic artist Virgie (and energetic and convincing Marty Cruickshank) has summoned family and friends for her 84th birthday and a momentous announcement.

Played on Michael Taylor's atmospheric Essex seaside railway carriage studio set (and with some fab clothes), Virgie has her birthday agenda carefully planned to the final detail but her guests have other ideas.

Long-suffering daughter Haydn (Veronica Roberts) is a martyr to Virgie's muse, acutely aware of her duty - presumably learned from those 'unsuitable' childhood books rather than a role model - while alcoholic uninvited beloved son Orin (James Wallace) wafts through life unable to shake the little prince persona.

Old friends and lovers - thespian and long-term philanderer Tom (Neil McCaul) and 'Lemon Drizzle Club' novelist Sonia (Kate Fahy) - remain in thrall to the aging painter fleshing out memories of a Bohemian past.

Rachel Bell plays a no-nonsense Lord and former head teacher Shirley, a stoic counterpoint to her equally headstrong sister.

'Director Samuel West paces the piece beautifully'

Michael Begley and Eleanor Wyld complete a competent cast as taxi driver Roy, and art student and vocal sobber Miranda who offer their untainted perspective on the blank canvas completed for them by Virgie herself.

And so the artist's picture is painted: a campaigning feminist whose maternal instincts are consumed by passion - for art, for feminism and for sex. Defying convention, De Angelis's protagonist offers an opportunity to debate the rights and wrongs of women who refuse to let motherhood define them and for whom their children are stumbling blocks on the path of a hedonistic lifestyle.

Interwoven with the larger theme are pauses for thought on diverse topics such as old age, dignity and choice. And the oddities of the family life and dynamic.

Director Samuel West paces the piece beautifully with excellent timing and delivery, balancing laugh-out-loud wit and comedy with passionate declamation and pathos.

After Electra continues at Plymouth Theatre Royal until 28 March 2015, before transferring to the Tricycle Theatre from 7 April to 2 May