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Sex, Death and a Baked Swan review at Rosemary Branch London

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EastEnders scriptwriter Deborah Cook makes her stage debut with a delightful double bill of plays about Roman women in ancient Britain circa 200AD. Impressively well researched, the plays show off Cook’s droll wit while making interesting, still relevant points about power, class and gender.

A Baked Swan is a monologue in the form of a cookery demonstration, a lesson in Roman cuisine expertly delivered by Danielle Allan. With the brisk efficiency of a classical Delia Smith, Allan’s expatriate Roman matron Flavia takes us course by course through the sumptuous dinner party she is preparing for her civic administrator husband and his guests.

She provides recipe tips on a range of exotic dishes from roast dormouse to baked swan, interspersed with complaints about the plumbing and the help, and other jibes at this benighted rain and windswept corner of the empire. Meanwhile, Flavia’s marital history gradually emerges, as does the cunning gastronomic revenge she has in store for the boorish husband to whom she was forcibly married at the age of 13.

The Main Event, Cook’s second play, also explores a power struggle. The antagonists are two female gladiators, formerly mistress and slave, who are preparing to fight each other in the London Coliseum.

Fliss Walton’s haughty Claudia, the disgraced ex-wife of a senator turned superstar gladiatrix, and her ex-slave, Toni Darlow’s feisty Celt Greeneyes, at first appear worlds apart. Claudia subscribes to the stiff upper lip Roman code of duty, Greeneyes owes her sensibility to the romantic myths and songs of her Welsh heritage.

As the time for their entry into the arena approaches, however, the similarities between the women emerge – both are fighting back against a male-dominated world in which low-born slaves and upper crust wives alike are property. Initially wary and hostile, the pair slowly discover a touching kinship.

Aided by Robert Gillespie’s skilful, unobtrusive direction, Walton and Darlow do an excellent job of conveying the shifts in the women’s relationship, while effective lighting and sound design by Stephen Ley and David Peto enhance the tension as the time for the women’s fatal duel draws near.

Production Information

Rosemary Branch, London, April 26 – May 29

Deborah Cook
Robert Gillespie
Jane Nightwork Productions
Danielle Allan, Fliss Walton, Toni Darlow, Rob Pomfret
Running time
1hr 45mins

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