Thursday, September 28

Bitter Lemons – Pleasance Courtyard (Beneath)

Two women, both in their twenties, are high fliers in careers traditionally associated with men. One is a professional footballer, the other a banker. They are both on the cusp of even greater success. But their lives are changed for ever by something that can never happen to a man – they get pregnant.

This is a wonderful new play, beautifully written by Lucy Hayes. It is transferring next month to the Bristol Old Vic.

The writing is spare, often poetic, and crackles with energy.  There is gentle humour, too, especially in the descriptions of the women’s relationships with their mothers.

Apart from a brief meeting at the end, the women never interact. They tell us their stories and we in the audience are their confidants. We are never told their names, but these women are speaking not just for themselves but for countless other women who have faced similar choices.

Their stories are cleverly synchronised. Occasionally they overlap but mostly they speak separately though there are links between the two women’s predicaments – and not just that they both become pregnant. The word pitch is common to both. The footballer must succeed on the pitch, and the banker needs a successful pitch to win clients for the bank and promotion for herself.

The two performers – Shannon Hayes and Chanel Waddock – are outstanding, giving riveting performances. There is no self pity even as they tell us the most harrowing details of their experiences. They are totally convincing.

Their physicality is impressive, too. Waddock is a convincing goalkeeper protecting her goal. Hayes struts in her business suit with power shoulders and worries she looks a bit like Margaret Thatcher.

Both have lost their fathers. The goalkeeper’s recently died of cancer. Earlier he and her mother had divorced following his affair with another woman. The banker had only met her father once – at her 7th birthday party. Her mother loved him but found out he was married to another woman.

Both are let down by the men who impregnated them. In the banker’s case she thought she had a loving boyfriend who had said he couldn’t wait to have children. But when he is told of the pregnancy, his instant response is:” And I presume you are going to get rid of it”.

The goalkeeper was impregnated by a barista she’d met when her mother offended him by saying she preferred an instant coffee to the ‘heritage bean’ he was offering. The goalkeeper had placated him and soon afterwards they’d ended up in bed. She’d asked him to wear a condom, but he suggested she should get the morning after pill instead.

Both women are also let down by their employers. A routine medical by the team doctor leads to the revelation of the goalkeeper’s pregnancy, and there is pressure on her to make a quick decision before the coach is told.

The banker, who is black in an otherwise entirely white executive team, feels she is being used to present a more diverse image of the bank for a sales pitch to black clients.

Lucy Hayes also directs the play. It is a seamless pacy production. The simple set (designed by Raisin Martingale), the evocative but unobtrusive sound (designed by Hattie North) and the effective lighting (designed by Holly Ellis) all help contribute to an outstanding production.

This is a timely play. It does not preach. It just tells the story of two women and invites us to think. And that is what the best plays have always done.

Reviewer: Tom Scott

Reviewed: 5th August 2023

North West End UK Rating:

Rating: 5 out of 5.