This is the Traverse Theatre Company’s starred pairing of Clean by Sabrina Mahfouz and of A Respectable Widow Takes to Vulgarity by Douglas Maxwell; both plays directed by Orla O’Loughlin. Indisputable showcase productions, they’re looking sharp for the Brits Off-Broadway season on the 59E59 ‘A’ stage from 2nd to 27th April.
Clean is as in, “We searched her and her luggage and she was clean”. Only unapologetic protagonists Zainab, Chlöe and Katya, are not. It is just that they specialise in criminal work that scrubs up well: credit card fraud, emerald smuggling, and share price ‘protection’. They work and talk alone until one lucrative job and an evil Mr Big brings them together.
They make a game trio on the same spare platform, which is Mahfouz’s point. Clean is Bold Girls (at Level 1) on an Android OS: mobile, smart and sassy. Its story might as well be released for a PS4 console in search of female characters. Mahfouz’s on-off poetry is attractive with quick dialogue pressing hard on ‘Refresh’, providing feminist content and voice(s) within an all-user setting.
The performances display just as distinctly. Emma Dennis Edwards is Zainab. Hackney street-wise and ‘sick’, man; save that this is one sorted 23 year old who does not need a man in her life. She moves, sometimes raps, in-between poised, posh Chlöe (Jade Anouka) and Russki, Katya (Chloe Massey), whose accent is as hard, probably, as her steel toe-caps. OK it’s off-script, but you don’t ask Lara Croft if she has a younger sister, obvs.
Clean deserves to clean up in New York, which is more than Candy Crush’s listing managed.
A Respectable Widow Takes to Vulgarity has the same open-sourced quality as Clean. It looks explicitly to class and culture but plays nicely alongside the character graphics of Mahfouz’s piece. Director Orla O’Loughlin puts this on second, probably because it is funnier, less edgy and virtual, I suppose. Regardless, the direction is just as tight.
Writer Douglas Maxwell describes it as “My Fair Lady in reverse”. Sounds good. Well-spoken Annabel from purlieus douce meets young employee Jim Dick at her husband’s funeral. He’s emphatically not James Dick of Dick Place, EH9, the most expensive street in Scotland. Annabel would converse, he cannot without tripping into his f’ing vernacular that embarrasses him and fascinates her. There you have it. Flippin’ Pygmalion flipped.
Joanna Tope is Annabel and has just to adjust her scarf for you to realise that she does not shop at Accessorize, as the spelling would appal her. Her speech is pitched so well that ‘cadence’ probably registered on her P1 report. Gavin Jon Wright as James plays very reluctant, wired, ‘teacher’ with the merriment of an actor who knows he has a gift of a part. See him on the terraces when Annabel goes one word too far!
A crude joke of a name ends the piece and has them both choking on their Big Macs. An appetite for language is always healthy.
Reviewer: Alan Brown (Seen 27 March)
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