Review: Airswimming at the Old Joint Stock Theatre

It is 1924 and for Persephone life is just beginning. She’s 21, and looking forward to her debutante ball – but then things change.

She is morally defective, and will spend the next 50 years of her life at St Dymphna’s Hospital for the Criminally Insane, abandoned by her family, and cut off from the rest of the world.

Persephone is welcomed in by Dora, a two year inmate, a transsexual, cross dresser with a fixation with the war and authority.

Through the songs and films of Doris Day, and a co-dependent relationship that is at once both affectionate and angry the two aim to get through their incarceration as best as they can.

The two hander, written by Charlotte Jones, and first performed in 1997, takes a look at life inside a mental institution. The play has been described as both a comedy, but also a savage indictment on the care system and it is both, although sadly, it is still largely relevant today.

The play, set over a 50 year period and with a structure that leapt from one time frame to another, was both confusing and suited the nature of the piece, where the fracturing of time and the monotony of years melting into each other was shown to good effect.

Alison Nicol as Persephone shows innocence, but also portrays anger at the character’s treatment. She also has a fine singing voice and a comedic light touch, while Tanya Chainey, as the cynical, brooding authoritarian Dora, adds a certain level of anguish, menace and pathos to the mix.

Careful sound mixing and design by Nigel Dams incorporates the songs of Doris Day into a soundscape that is at once both strange and familiar.

Although the audience was on the small side, it is testament to both the theatre company Weird Sisters’ conviction and the strength of the play that something like this is still performed with such assuredness and talent.

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