Theatre Review: Black Chiffon At Park Theatre

Black Chiffon, Park 90, Park Theatre ★★☆☆☆

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Theatre Review: Black Chiffon At Park Theatre Black Chiffon, Park 90, Park Theatre 2
Photo: Mark Douet

How far have we have travelled in our experience of mental illness, both in its analysis and treatment, and stage depictions?

Anyone who’s ever sneaked an extra item through the self-service checkout in the supermarket or ‘accidentally’ packed a hotel towel may identify with Abigail Cruttenden’s crisply vulnerable Alicia. A respectable middle-class post-war housewife overly devoted to her son and distracted at his upcoming wedding shoplifts a black chiffon nightdress from a store that’s probably Harrods.

Photo: Mark Douet

What follows is painful for Alicia, subjected to cross-examination by an unsympathetic cardboard patriarch of a husband, anxious offspring and the dreariest psychiatrist seen on stage until Peter Shaffer wrote Equus. It’s also quite painful to watch.

That's because it’s 1949, a period where ordinary middle-class families lived in houses on Chelsea Embankment, where the whiff of scandal mustn’t taint the son’s new in-laws who are ‘Old India Hands’ from the end of the Raj, and where Freudian psychoanalysis is both completely unsupportive of the patient and in this case, two steps away from ‘hysterical woman’ in its diagnosis.

Photo: Mark Douet

So this worthy and smartly-presented transfer from the splendid Frinton Summer Theatre — somewhere well worth a visit in a day out from Liverpool Street — is a curio, and interesting as a period piece, but it’s not a great night out.

Structurally, Black Chiffon owes a lot to Priestley’s An Inspector Calls which opened two years earlier in London — an external character asks some fairly predicable questions and the entire family house of cards collapses.

Photo: Mark Douet

Always a pleasure to see Cruttenden, definitely the best actor in Not Going Out, and both Jack Staddon as the Oedipal son and Eva Feiler as the pregnant daughter, give good value.

But it’s still a long night for an old nightie.

Black Chiffon, Park 90, Park Theatre, Clifton Terrace, Finsbury Park,  N4 3JP.  Tickets £18, until 12 October 2019.

Last Updated 20 September 2019