|Tanya Moodie as Esther|
I visit the Theatre Royal pretty regularly, but this was the first time I've been to the Ustinov, which is a much smaller (and newer) theatre. I really enjoyed the evening.
I have to admit that I'm not familiar with Lynne Nottage's work, but based on this performance, I have been missing out, and would like to see more of her work.
The play is set in New York in 1905, and is an imagined history of the author's own great-grandparents. Esther (Tanya Moodie) is a 35 year old seamstress, who has lived in the same boarding house for 18 years, since walking to New York to seek work, and who sees other girls coming and going, moving on to marriage and motherhood. She longs for love, and dreams of opening her own beauty parlour where poor, black women such as herself could go to be pampered and treated well.
Esther then receives a letter from George Armstrong (Chu Omambala), a labourer on the Panama Canal. Being illiterate, Esther relies on two of her clients, wealthy, unhappily married Mrs Van Buren (Sara Topman) and singer / prostitute Mayme (Rochelle Neil) to read the letters to her, and to compose replies.
Esther also has a friendship with Mr Marks, (Ilan Goodman) a Jewish haberdasher with whom she bonds over a shared love of fine fabrics.
Tanya Moodie's performance is perfect, creating a deeply moving, poignant character, longing to be loved.
George is a less obviously sympathetic character, particularly in the second half of the play, and I was slightly distracted by his accent, which seemed to slip from the Caribbean, to Bristol, to Ireland.
Over all, however, this is a fantastic performance, of a great play. And it's on in Bath until 28th June, so if you live locally, there is still time to see it. (and it is in London after that)