Johannes Hjorth

Last term when I saw The Revlon Girl at Robinson Auditorium I could not keep myself from recommending it to everyone I came across that week. A play that is both heart-breaking and heart-warming, funny and tragic, brought to the stage with immaculate direction and stellar performances, the production was a truly special piece of student theatre. I was genuinely disappointed that I only got to see it once, but that disappointment was short lived as The Revlon Girl has now transferred to the ADC Theatre, and the production is no less impressive in the more prestigious space.

The play is small and intimate, with only five actors on the stage – four young mothers, grieving the deaths of their children in the Aberfan Disaster that took the lives of 116 children and 28 adults eight months earlier, and the representative from the makeup company Revlon, who has come to give them a presentation on beauty tips. As the play progresses, the audience is given insights, piece by piece, into their distinct personalities and shared loss, which is no less painful for being felt by so many. Empathy is the key to this play, and it is palpable not only in the relationship between the audience and the actors, but between each member of the cast and, indeed, the production team. Each actor fully understands the nuances not only of their own character but of all the others as well, and the subtlety of the blocking, lighting, and sound makes it clear that the production team are just as invested in the lives and the stories they are presenting.

"This deeply human story is rendered with profound emotion and understanding, and for this reason alone this play is one of the most important productions in the ADC calendar"

Lisa Bernhardt and Gaia Fey Lambert’s set is minimalist and striking – a black, featureless room is overshadowed by the looming presence of spoil tips rendered in geometric ruthlessness. As the audience enters, the nearest tip is backlit and seems to lean over the stage and into the audience, creating a palpable sense of menace. Alice Chernaik’s sound design is once again immaculate and creates a pre-performance soundscape in which the sound of a school playground is overwhelmed by the arrestingly slow rumble of a landslide which strains the ADC sound system. Throughout the play, sound and lighting (Ruth Harvey) work together seamlessly to punctuate the script to great comic and tragic effect.

Once the play begins in earnest, the actors themselves build a set out of the darkness. Chairs, a table, and a stool are brought onstage, and our awareness shifts from the looming spoil tips to an empty, somewhat dingy function room above a pub, with a leak in the ceiling. Each of the women that enter the space, one by one, is different and nuanced. There’s Sian (Freya Ingram), endearing, eager to help, hurting no less than the others; Marilyn (Amelia Hills), broken by her loss and unsure what is real; sarcastic, foul mouthed Rona (Meg Coslett) who would rather be angry than sad; vicar’s wife Jean (Martha O’Neill), eight months pregnant and apparently the most put together, arriving with perfect hair, shoes, coat. It is impossible to single out a single actor in this true ensemble cast, or indeed to reduce their incredibly subtle performances to single sentence summaries – I do them an injustice in attempting it. Nor do their performances ever overlap or blur, a distinctness helped by the clarity afforded by Geraint Owen’s excellent staging. Occasionally it was clear that the production had transferred from a wider stage, with unfortunate instances of masking that confused rather than contributed, but overall the translation from Robinson to ADC was extremely adept.

No less impressive is Emily Webster as the Revlon Girl, who by the end of the play had brought tears to the eyes of not only the characters but much of the audience. At first the Revlon Girl seems wholly separated from the other women, standing across the stage from them in a leopard print dress with red heels while they watch her in subtle shades of blue and green. Webster’s beautiful nervousness, in both her speech and mannerisms, ensures that we never forget her presence on the stage, but initially the audience could be forgiven for thinking that she is merely the window through which we see the other four. This idea fades away, however, as she actively draws the inner lives of the others into the open, before devastatingly sharing her own.


Mountain View

Techno Electra preview

The strength of the performances and production as a whole ensure that this deeply human story is rendered with profound emotion and understanding, and for this reason alone this play is one of the most important productions in the ADC calendar this academic year. The sheer disregard demonstrated for the ‘little people’ in a small Welsh village fifty years ago is seen today, in our capital, across the world. This production forces us to face that fact, to face the tragedy and reality of it, to face the people left behind to grieve. Whether relying on God, looking for revenge, hoping for new life, The Revlon Girl reminds us that no one has the right answers, but searching for them will never cease to be important.