Old Red Lion Theatre – until 2 February 2019
Reviewed by Claire Roderick
Liv Warden’s debut play examines the media’s (and public’s) seemingly insatiable appetite for salacious details when the abusive behaviour of powerful men is exposed. We never see Phillip Preston, an internationally-known film producer. Instead the scandal unfolds through the eyes of his three daughters, focussing much more intriguingly on their family dynamic. As soon as any news like this breaks, fingers are pointed at the women close to the abuser, accusing them of betraying their sex, moralising and speculating about how much they knew, and their motive for protecting such a vile man, without considering the dynamics and intricacies of their relationships.
Warden slowly unpicks and reveals the three women’s experiences with their father through a series of monologues that gradually explain their public reaction to the scandal. The daughters are stereotypical mogul offspring: the oldest, Piper (Natasha Cowley) is Preston’s business heir, running the company and dealing with family problems with a cool head at the expense of her own marriage. Middle daughter Penny (Katherine Samuelson0 is a successful film actor, playing the Hollywood publicity game, and youngest daughter Polly (Alice Handoll) is the family disaster, described by the press as a mentally unstable cokehead.
The sisters’ resigned reaction to their father being arrested for GBH soon changes when they hear that his victim is their mother. With photos splashed over the media, this is one scandal that can’t be covered up or the victim paid off, and the family are set adrift by former allies and protectors. The women all talk of their parents’ mantra of family first and learning about loyalty and resilience – “weathering the storm”. The damage this loyalty has done to the women is shown in flashes as Piper’s no-nonsense professionalism melts into frightened isolation and Penny’s Hollywood smile can’t hide her tears. The sexism the two women face daily is shown brutally and succinctly in two short scenes in the boardroom and a TV chat show, and highlight their inner strength and resilience clearly, even though their damaged childhoods have coloured their choices. Polly talks openly in her monologues about a long list of affairs and abuse with sardonic resignation and gleeful disdain for the media circus.
Unfortunately, the three women never interact physically, instead speaking to characters that we only hear. This heightens their isolation in the glare of the media to great effect, but the sisterly dynamic is sadly missing. Although that is possibly what Warden and director Adam Small are aiming for, to show the damage done by a father like that. The stark white set, with a slash of blood red newsprint scarring the floor adds to the uncomfortable feeling of voyeurism and the final scene leaves the audience craving to see what happens next, making us complicit in the insensitive clamour for details of other people’s misery that fuels, and is fuelled by, the media.
Anomaly is a fine debut – uncomfortable viewing, but engaging and perceptive