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Rapture, Blister, Burn review at Hampstead Theatre London

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Gwen and Don are a small town couple whose on-the-rocks marriage is further tested when his ex – Emilia Fox’s single and sassy cultural studies academic Catherine – returns to her home town to look after her sick mother. Not only does this reignite Don’s passions, it makes Emma Fielding’s Gwen question her own choices.

American stage and TV writer Gina Gionfriddo’s latest play takes a while to find its feet. At first it feels too abstract, with the characters serving as mouthpieces for all the feminist theory studied in Catherine’s summer classes with Gwen and her smart and engagingly frank babysitter Avery (Shannon Tarbet). At times it feels like it needs a bibliography flashed on the backdrop.

But when the two leading women decide that maybe they should actually swap lives then the drama of real people confronting their choices becomes textured, engaging and plausible, and you can see why Edward Hall’s Hampstead took this on, and why it prompted Fox to return to theatre after a 10-year break from the stage.

Fox’s lecturey bearing begins to soften and we see feminist theory properly tested. Throughout all this, the ensemble are excellent, with Adam James giving a particularly accomplished performance as Don, the smart guy who never rose to Catherine’s heights but seems content with Gwen’s constant expectations, as he puts it, of him achieving grade C.

Jonathan Fensom’s designs are top notch, with great use of a revolve to create a believable world of small town comfort in a play which, when it breaks out of the lecture theatre, becomes a deft study of relationships, regret and aspiration.

Production Information

Hampstead Theatre, London, January 22-February 22

Gina Gionfriddo
Peter Dubois
Hampstead Theatre
Emma Fielding, Emilia Fox, Adam James, Shannon Tarbet, Polly Adams
Running time
2hrs 20mins

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