Digging into the ambiguities of stereotypes, social stigma, and of simultaneously loving and loathing the place you grew up, Stiletto Beach is an engaging if unwieldy new play from author Sadie Hasler.
Commissioned for the Essex Girls and Boys micro-season at the Queen’s Theatre, Hornchurch, the show tells the interlocking stories of five women with their roots east of London.
Hasler’s writing is full of humour and imaginative wordplay, making strong points about the tactics people employ to either fit into or escape from society’s expectations. However, a meandering plot starts to run out of steam well before the characters take to the shores of the Thames to symbolically burn a pile of high heels.
Emily Houghton’s vivacious, vividly foul-mouthed Leanne dominates the show, occasionally skirting the edges of caricature but quickly developing into a convincingly complicated character. Towards the show’s end, she belts out a ferocious speech about embracing her identity and rejecting the judgement of others.
Beside her, Linda Broughton radiates down to earth decency and enduring pride as grandmother Roni, while Angela Clerkin’s poised Dame Viv delivers a dry lecture with significant charisma, elevating a role written as a framing device.
Director Emma Baggott breaks up a succession of unevenly paced scenes with lively bursts of club music and vigorous dancing, the cast silhouetted against Douglas Kuhrt’s illuminated backdrop. This giant, glaring screen fades between blazing neon and delicately-graded horizons, shifting – like the show’s characters – between garish and glorious, intriguing and in-your-face.