Es & Flo at the Kiln Theatre – review

Jennifer Lunn’s play transfers to London from Cardiff

Doreene Blackstock and Liz Crowther in Es & Flo, © Kirsten McTernan

Jennifer Lunn is already an established director and producer, but in this tender drama, first seen in April at Wales Millennium Centre, she proves herself an accomplished playwright as well.

Es and Flo are a lesbian couple who met at the landmark Greenham Common demonstrations in the 1980s (images and chants from the protest are a motif between scenes). Now in their 60s and 70s, they are coming to terms with the fact Es has dementia, and the increasing demands this places on her care.

It’s a situation familiar to so many, but the fact these women love each other adds complication, particularly as Es’s son Peter, who rarely visits, apparently doesn’t know about the relationship. He has hired a part-time carer, Beata, and sent his wife Catherine to persuade his mother to sign over her power of attorney.

In the middle of all this, Flo is desperately trying to cling on to the woman she loves, rebuffing offers of help. And Es clings back, often literally; Susie McKenna’s production contains many moments of intimacy, including a passionate slow dance, that leave us in no doubt as to the strength of their bond.

It contains some fine performances too, not least Liz Crowther and Doreene Blackstock as the central couple. Crowther shows Es’s increasing confusion with great pathos, capturing the frustration of a bright mind fully aware of its own dimming, while Blackstock’s Flo simmers with rage at her status as Es’s “good friend”.

The all female ensemble also features Adrianna Pavlovska as Beata, whose own story of familial rejection due to having a mixed heritage daughter (played superbly by the scene-stealing Chioma Nduka) chimes with Es and Flo’s. And Michelle McTernan does a good job of showing the way Catherine’s outward pomposity masks deeper suffering.

Although at times the dialogue can feel a little expositional, words filling spaces where none are needed, it packs emotional punch when it matters, particularly in the second half when Libby Watson’s domestic set undergoes a coup de theatre to move us to the hospital where Es has been taken after a fall.

It’s a deeply moving love story, shown not at its inception but at its end. And, through this, it’s also a rallying cry for the essential right of women to marry one another. The love of Es and Flo, so misunderstood by their own families, represents not just a sanctuary for them, but for all who come into their orbit, including us.

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Es & Flo

Closed: 24 June 2023