London Theatre Workshop, Above the Eel Brook Pub 29 October – 21 November. Reviewed by Claire Roderick
The Killing of Sister George was first produced in 1965, and 50 years later it still packs a punch.
June Buckridge (Sioned Jones) plays Sister George in a BBC radio soap. She is the most popular character and so invested in the show and her character that everyone calls her George in everyday life. The listeners know her as a lovable district nurse, full of homespun wisdom and kindness, but in reality, George is an aggressive, paranoid drinker who takes out her frustrations on her “flatmate” Childie (Briony Rawle). As her off-air antics come back to haunt her (including an hysterical incident with some nuns), George’s character is killed off, and her life begins to unravel.
Sioned Jones is formidable as George – expertly showing the veneer of self confidence slip away to reveal George’s insecurity, and using fantastic comedic timing. The complex relationship with Childie is played brilliantly, allowing the audience to see the co-dependence and destructiveness of the lovers more clearly in every confrontation. The two actresses are convincing whether screaming or each other or sharing tender glances. Rawle plays Childie full of innocence and childlike enthusiasm, but shows her troubled side gently, without going over the top. This play was one of the first about lesbian relationships, and doesn’t romanticise or titillate, but instead portrays a relationship that no sane person, man or woman, would choose to be in.
The visits of Mrs Mercy Croft (Sarah Shelton – wonderfully head-girl like and twee), the Head of Talks at the BBC, move the plot forward, and reveal past misdemeanours with great humour. The way George responds to Mrs Mercy’s news using quotes from the radio show is both revealing and hysterical. Madame Xenia (Janet Amsden – chewing the scenery to brilliant effect) is George’s neighbour and helps on the day of Sister George’s radio funeral, fielding telephone calls and accepting floral tributes. Apparently mass public grief and hysteria is not a new thing.
The remarks about the BBC glossing over its employees’ minor offences, keeping up appearances, abandoning stars to increase contemporary appeal and audience ratings obviously get bigger laughs today, after the revelations of goings on in the 1970s and 1980s, but it is the trite sincerity with which Shelton spouts out the corporate line that makes it even funnier.
The comedy and the dark psychological themes of the play marry well and the actresses make the more dated and creaky parts of the script work. This is a fine production, and a timely revival. Well worth a look.