Casa Valentina (Southwark Playhouse)

Casa Valentina by Robert Workman 2015 8‘Casa Valentina’ is about a group of purportedly straight men, dressing up as women, in a guesthouse in upstate New York.

Based on true events, the play by American writer Harvey Fierstein (who’s having a busy week in town after his other show ‘Kinky Boots’ opened last night), explores these men and their compulsion for exploring their ‘inner ladies’ in the marginally less tolerant society of 1962.

Fascinatingly, the leaders of this ‘sorority’ of transvestites are keen to evangelise their cause amongst American society and in order to do so feel they must rebuke homosexuality. After all, as Charlotte (Gareth Snook) says: how will anyone accept them if they always associate transvestism with predatory, pederastic, perverted ‘fags’? This question, and the desire to pit one group of outcasts against, dominates the action of the piece.

Ably directed by Luke Sheppard in this well-paced production, the unanimously strong cast showcase Fierstein’s thought-provoking piece excellently. Particularly wonderful are Ashley Robinson’s sexy/pouty Gloria, who put me in mind of ‘Mad Men’s Joan Harris and Gareth Snook, whose venomous, biting Charlotte was the very model of a prejudiced zealot. Watching him almost devour Robert Morgan’s Amy was akin to witnessing a predatory spider grow ever closer to it’s captive prey. Tamsin Carroll also impressed as the perpetually understanding yet undervalued Rita. The lighting design by
Howard Hudson impressed, with it’s warm and effective use of dozens of differing lampshades hanging into the auditorium.

To say that ‘Casa Valentina’ is about transvestites would be like saying Hamlet is about a Danish Prince: the piece explores otherness, prejudice and how readily even the most marginalised will marginalise others in their quest to be ‘normal’.

Reviewed by: Jody Tranter
Photo: Robert Workman

Casa Valentina is playing at the Southwark Playhouse until 10 October. Click here for tickets