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Linda review at the Royal Court, London – ‘impassioned and necessary’

Noma Dumezweni in Linda at the Royal Court, Jerwood Theatre Downstairs. Photo: Tristram Kenton

What’s the opposite of a vanishing act? Because that’s exactly what Penelope Skinner’s new play is: an attempt to address the invisibility that comes with aging, if you’re a woman that is, the process of erasure, unvoicing and unsexing, that comes in a hot gust along with the menopause.

Noma Dumezweni only stepped into the role 10 days ago, after Kim Cattrall withdrew from the production under the advice of her doctor. But even though she occasionally consults the script, she gives an emotionally complete performance in the title role, as Linda, a successful marketing executive in her mid-50s who works for a cosmetics company called, ahem, Swan. Her most famous campaign was one which celebrated women’s natural beauty but that was a decade ago. Now she has a philandering husband to contend with, one daughter who spends her days in an onesie, hiding herself and her body from the world, another with dreams of being an actress who despairs at the lack of juicy parts for women.

The production looks amazing. Es Devlin’s set is an utter stunner: a gleaming white, two-tier construction which looks not unlike a swan itself and, sleek as it is, there’s something churning beneath the surface. This is an impassioned production of a flawed but arguably necessary play.

While it’s true that Skinner has written smarter, sharper things in the past – this is clunky in places, ridiculously on the nose in others, and most of the secondary characters feel quite mechanical – it has a storm in its mouth, anger in its heart and a role of magnitude at its centre, and Dumezweni owns it.

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A flawed but impassioned and necessary play about the invisibility of older women