There we were, two of us, though I would rather call us Two Women. One older, one younger, (one me, one my daughter-in-law,) in prime stalls seats at the Bridge Theatre. We were watching another two ladies – Zoe Wanamaker (I admired her in a play about Stevie Smith a year or so back at Hampstead Theatre,) and Zrinka Cvitesic. The name of the play we were watching was -Two Ladies.
To say we were disappointed in the production is not the point. I came home with an intense sense of curiosity about it.
Much of the play seemed to me as if it had not only been written by a man, but by a positively pre-feminist kind of man. Zrinka Cvitesic played Sophia, wife of an American President. Zoe Wanamaker played Helen, wife of a French President. Sophia was from Slovenia (I mean the actress was, I don`t recall the geographical roots of the character, though definitely Balkan.) Helen was more than two decades older than her husband. (Though initially I was confused because Zoe Wanamaker walked on looking a bit like Hilary Clinton. My mistake.)
They met in circumstances (I won`t give away the plot) which required Sophia to undress down to a shiny cream slip, and remain that way for ten or fifteen minutes while among other things the women talked about Marilyn Munro and lipstick. This is an impressionistic recall….I was perhaps too stunned to take in all the dialogue.
At any rate, an inordinate amount of the dialogue was about the suffering and uncertainty in the lives of these two very privileged women – who were also depicted as first degree victims in a world controlled by powerful, sometimes cruel, often unfaithful men. Off-stage the two husbands were meeting, either to proceed with military intervention somewhere, or to decide not to.
In her youth Sophia had been gang-raped. Horrible. But unfortunately the conversations did seem very dependent on what the playwright needed us to know. I recalled years back attending a writers` workshop at The Library Theatre in Manchester. One man there produced the opening of a play in which, he explained to us, a black woman was on all fours, at the front of the stage, being anally raped by a white man. But, he explained to us, the audience would see from the expression on her face, that (I think I remember correctly) `she is really above all this kind of thing.` We were supposed to see, from the expression on her face, that she was above it.
Nancy Harris, in writing Two Ladies, did set herself a particularly difficult task. Were we supposed to think this really was Melania Trump, and Brigitte Macron? One of the hardest things – to write about real people, still alive.
I googled the playwright, and after a quick moment of envy – imagine getting a play put on with this level of funding and backing, and one of the best directors in the country – found my answer to why she chose the subject she did.
Both her parents, I learned ( I do love Google…) have been political journalists. I worked out a theory – no idea whether true or not, but it worked for me. She must have grown up listening to lots of stories about meetings and interviews with famous and/or powerful people, who came over as real people along with being public ones. There is definitely something to get hold of there, and I feel sure Nancy Harris will go on to write more. Good luck to all of us!