The publicity material for The Other Line highlights the shocking statistic that only seven of the past 247 main shows at the ADC theatre have been written solely by women. The new play by Hellie Cranney and Ellen Robertson, which has five complex, sizeable roles for women and an all-female cast and crew, is an excellent vehicle for showcasing some of the immensely talented women in Cambridge theatre.
The play begins with a recognisable, if fraught, situation: a girls’ night in with Kate, sister-in-law Madeleine, sister Tash and her (uninvited) partner Clare. Gradually, amidst the bad dancing, sushi delivery and tequila shots, a sinister reality emerges: in the society of the play’s world all women are fitted with an implant, which prevents them from having children. Women are given a certain number of points, depending upon their income, it is suggested, rather than whether they would make good mothers. Women are only able to have children if they reach the ‘threshold’ number of points by the age of 38, unless they are ‘sponsored’ by another woman who then cannot have children herself.
Despite its dystopian subject matter, The Other Line is watchable, hilarious and moving. The investment of each member of the company in the piece is palpable. Mary Galloway’s performance as Madeleine, Kate’s wealthy sister in law, is particularly enjoyable. Affording the most comic relief of the play, she perplexes Tash and Clare with offers of Lapsang Souchong, dances around the room and goes to sleep under the table drunk. Hellie Cranney as Kate, Laura Jayne Ayres as Tash, Sarah Livingstone as Clare and Ellen Robertson as Nikki also deliver compelling performances. Emily Burn’s direction makes the most of scene changes, and the music selection is fantastic. Anna Reid’s set design, the living room of an expensive house with a four piece suite and walls painted in ‘Cerulean blue’, is lovely, although there is further potential to probe the idea of domestic space.
The writing for the most part is subtle and light. The terrifying norm of government control over the female body is slipped into conversation, avoiding clunky mechanisms of dystopia. However, more explanation of the details of the system is needed and earlier on to prevent audience confusion and to heighten empathy with the characters’ situations. As it stands, this plot device seems gratuitous for engaging with the gender and class dynamics the play purports to explore; the allegory of reproductive control proves more distracting than effective. As well as this, the last fifteen minutes of the play ring false. After over an hour of surprising and innovative writing, the play resorts to a rather hackneyed plot twist, which shattered my emotional connection with the characters. The Other Line ultimately retreats from fully exploring the implications of the alternate reality it creates.
The Other Line delivers its feminist agenda more effectively in practice than in theory. While the political message of this intriguing play requires fine-tuning by the writers, Emily Burns’ production is impressively substantial. The success of The Other Line stokes the challenge for more adventurous casting and programming at the ADC and beyond.
Originally published on Cambridgetheatrereview.com, 19th February 2014