Love, Loss and What I Wore (The Mill at Sonning)
Five fabulous women slip in and out of frocks and characters to great effect in this UK premiere
This funny, touching, rousing celebration of women and the relationships between the generations and the sexes through the memory filter of clothing loved and loathed is a new reminder of what the world lost with the untimely death of film writer/director Nora Ephron. Nora and her equally talented sister, writer Delia Ephron, collaborated on this "patchwork of friendship" based on a memoir by Ilene Beckerman, hugely successful in America and worldwide.
Now it receives its UK premiere at a theatre with a female artistic director, Sally Hughes, no slouch on stage herself. It's a great women's vehicle and it has indeed attracted five terrific performers - Hughes has recruited women to direct and design too. Rachel Fielding, Louise Jameson, Sarah Lawrie, Rula Lenska and Cleo Sylvestre wear frocks designed by Jane Kidd, directed by Sarah Berger on Eileen Diss's simple versatile set.
Diss and Kidd's master(mistress?)stroke is a monochrome set that draws the eye to a rail of gorgeous scarlet costumes, which the cast drape and discard against the photos while actually describing costumes in all colours of the rainbow - even evoking a white wedding dress with a red one. Thus they artfully leave so much to the audience's imagination.
The show is nicely constructed, with the recurring memoir of Gingy (Jamieson, beautifully delicate and open) as through-line, starting with childhood memories, then more recollections of girlhood frocks, cherished and deplored. Of course memories are attached to the garments like nametapes, so you get the double delight of seeing the outfit and sharing the stories and insights.
The show lives up to its title with so many stories of love, marriage and loss triggered by the wearers of garments (and undergarments!). There's real pathos in the story of Gingy's 13th birthday shopping spree. Soon after the early death of her mother, she agonises over the choice between two party dresses - her father indulges her by buying both.
But above all there's laughter - often with mothers as the butt, a chance to retaliate at last for remarks like "You look like a slut... big lady... prostitute... waitress" (the last a response to dressing in black and white). The cast obviously relish playing each other's mums too, starting with Lenska holding little Gingy's hand. Equally the laughter is self-deprecating.
The re-enactment of a bra fitting veering from humiliation of the customer to triumph of the fitter had both sexes in the audience rocking with laughter, giving the lie to the worry that all this girly stuff might not appeal to the blokes.
Sylvestre is terrific on heels versus flatties, "heels or think", delivered tottering on highest scarlet heels, Fielding is funny on frenzied bridezillas at a bridal gowns sample sale and there's a touching denouement to comic preparations for a gay wedding, played with lovely sincerity by Fielding and Lawrie.
Love, Loss and What I Wore continues at the Mill at Sonning until 26 September