Theatre review: Women from the institution

Flower Girls
Hampstead Theatre, London
27 October

Star rating: 4/5

Flower Girls was co-produced by Graeae, the London-based disabled-led theatre. The company believes in working in the community by profiling the skills of actors, writers and directors with physical and sensory impairments. It represents the coming together of different abilities by creating productions that are artistically accessible to disabled and non-disabled audiences.

Written by Richard Cameron and directed by Peter Rowe and Jenny Sealey, Flower Girls traces the tumultuous, at times funny lives of six disabled women who lived and worked in an institution in Edgware – ineptly named “the Crippleage” – for 30 years from World War Two to the more free-thinking 1960s.

The story is uplifting and yet full of yearning as it flicks back and forth in time to tell of the hopes and fears that these women have about finding love, a life of happiness, and simply surviving. It is obvious that Cameron had much to tell us through this play. However, the production lacked some ­cohesion and smoothness as it veered between the eras, dialogue and tone.

Some of the performances were wonderfully natural. In particular, the ongoing tensions between Mabel (Lynne Goddard) and Sally (Sonia Cakebread) were delivered with cunning rivalry and heartfelt conviction. Nicola Miles-Wildin, as Alice, is convincing in her portrayal of someone desperate for affection.

The entire performance was signed. A surprising cleverness was that the interpreters were part of the action and interacted with characters in the play, rather than simply standing on the side of the stage.

Overall, the play was straight-talking and thought-provoking. What could have been a gloomy night at the theatre turned out to be an entertaining and informative one which shed light on a dark world of preconceptions.

Anna C Young is a writer and psychologist and chair of the Patient Public Involvement Forum at Tavistock and Portman NHS Foundation Trust

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