Ginger Hibiscus | Ginger Hibiscus | REVIEW: The Flannelettes at the King's Head Theatre
Ginger Hibiscus | REVIEW: The Flannelettes at the King's Head Theatre
Ginger Hibiscus | REVIEW: The Flannelettes at the King's Head Theatre
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18 May REVIEW: The Flannelettes at the King’s Head Theatre

Setting a play in a women’s domestic abuse refuge sounds like a reliable recipe for an evening of misery. But with Richard Cameron’s pen behind it, The Flannelettes manages to be not only thoughtful, poignant and challenging, but also warm and funny – and somehow an enjoyable watch.

In running the refuge in one of Yorkshire’s former mining villages, Brenda has seen innumerable women come and go, some local, others fleeing abusive situations miles away, some that will go on to leave to start a brand new life, and others that will inevitably fall back into the hands of their abusers. But whatever the situation, Brenda’s job is the same: compassion, support and occasionally a firm word. But as well as her usual clientele, every summer Brenda has her niece, Delie, to stay, a woman whose comprehension of the world aligns more to a ten year old than a twenty-something, and whose hobbies include litter picking and singing in a motown tribute band with her auntie and the local pawnbroker, George. Certainly not devoid of social skills, Delie has a new best friend, Roma, and indeed a whole host of new friends are beginning to emerge, as if from nowhere, and without clear intention.

Possibly the single most interesting thing about The Flannelettes, away from the brutality and inequity, the drugs and the prostitution, is that in coming away from the play, the most memorable character, Delie, is the one that society would automatically write off, because of her learning difficulties, because she’s a larger lady, and because her outfits are often quite “out there.” Shown to be a genuinely kind, well-intentioned though imperfect person, she’s engaging and entertaining, played by a brilliant Emma Hook, with a middle finger up to the notion that glamour is the only way to be noticed and remembered.

Less a “story” than a tragic unravelling of a banner that was always clearly marked, The Flannelettes is not one for unexpected twists and turns in a plot, but rather it pulls together disparate people and deposits them, on stage, to tell their stories, the bleak balanced by the mundane or funny to keep the audience from descending into abject dispair. Arguably a fraction overcomplicated, Cameron’s characters could be real people, complex individuals with both good and bad sides, a timely reminder that the world isn’t split into “the good” people and “the bad” people – take Brenda for example, running a refuge and offering solace, but also indulging in an extra marital affair with the local liaison police officer. It has to be said, though, this doesn’t extend as far as the characters we never meet, like Dean Mullion, local drug dealer and all-round-bad-guy.

With a script that brings just enough light into what is otherwise a very bleak look at physical abuse, grooming and drug use, the musical elements (60s motown) offer momentary glimmers of optimism, harking back to the pit village’s heyday, hinting that it wasn’t always such an oppressive, hopeless place to be, and that by extension it doesn’t always have to be so. Exploring serious themes with sensitivity and maturity, director Mike Bradwell has achieved a feat in making the play so watchable, though just like the moral compasses of Cameron’s characters, the production is still far from perfect.

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Star Rating

Ginger Hibiscus don’t like using stars as a headline; we think they’re too reductionist, and that decision-making based on stars misses the point of a review. Just as you wouldn’t judge a personality using a five-point scale, theatre is multi-dimensional. So have a read, and then look at the stars afterwards.
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