The Park Theatre really is a gem amongst fringe theatres. With a kooky and authentic foyer space serving artisan snacks, bespoke cocktails and an eclectic mix of patrons, it’s well worth a visit into deepest, darkest Finsbury for a visit. But enough about the gorgeous theatre, ‘What about the show?!’ I hear you cry.
Lynn Nottage’s Intimate Apparel is a beautifully crafted piece of theatre. Following an aging (and by that I mean 35 years old) black seamstress in early 20th century New York and her first forays into love and heartbreak, the play is a mixture of romance, drama and social history. Having sewn lingerie for both prostitutes and high born ladies alike, Ester has saved enough to make her dream of owning a beauty parlour for black women a reality. That is until she starts receiving love letters from a mysterious man in Panama. Nottage deftly weaves together the women’s lives and her writing is beautifully spun and full of character. Each character is acutely defined and it is an absolute joy to see a play where the female roles are given room to breathe and develop.
The acting is mighty fine too! As Esther, Tanya Moodie gives an astounding performance, bringing out the humour in the dark and contorting with a private pain that casts a spell upon the audience. One of the main reasons her performance is so brilliant is her ability to quietly control a scene when paired with much more forceful characters. The upper-class, white socialite Mrs Van Buren (played by Sarah Topham) and Mayme, Esther’s prostitute friend (played by Rochelle Neil) are two such characters. Both actresses give superb performances, tottering about the stage with a quietly feminine anger towards the men who have shaped who they have become. As Esther’s love interest George, Chu Omambala creates an air of masculine power which threatens to overcome Esther, but it is Ilan Goodman as the Jewish fabric salesman who warms the audience’s hearts and brings out the genuine romance of the play.
Lawrence Boswell has taken Nottage’s delicious script and served it with a beautiful mix of tenderness and patience, which gives the audience time to appreciate each character and plot development. There were audible gasps, sighs and laughs throughout the play and his real skill as a director is illuminated during the simple and private moments. Frustratingly, several accents drift and wander around the globe which is slightly distracting, but is certainly isn’t enough to dampen the spirit of the show.
Like a good novel, Intimate Apparel keeps the audience wanting more and I defy anyone to see this show and walk away not wanting to see more into this lace and satin filled world.
Reviewed by Roz Carter
Intimate Apparel plays at the Park Theatre until 27 July 2014. For more information and to book tickets click here.