New review: Her Naked Skin

Rebecca Lenkiewicz’s take on the suffrage movement hinges on a clichéd story of forbidden love between seamstress Eve Douglas and Lady Celia Cain. Debi Withers is exasperated

I could not help but be stung by sensationalism after seeing Rebecca Lenkiewicz’s critically acclaimed play Her Naked Skin at the Olivier theatre this weekend. It is, quite shockingly, the first ever original play by a woman to be performed in that theatre, something The Guardian’s interview with the playwright coyly skirts around: “Could it be to do with the Olivier stage? Some curse upon it? Rebecca shrugs as we walk towards the lifts – she can’t explain.”

Of all the unsolicited plays that the theatre receives, only one in five are ever from women, the interview goes on to reveal. Artistic director Nicholas Hytner avidly pouts about the Olivier’s particular standards: “It is a theatre that requires a particular set of skills: a muscularity of rhetoric, theme and imagination that will reach a thousand people.” Muscle indeed. The Guardian’s supposed innocence here is not convincing, but at least the edifice of patriarchal cultural colonisation is finally being chipped away in the heady days of progress we call the 21st century. That the play should use one of the greatest, and most obvious, sites of political and civic injustice for its dramatic backdrop – the suffrage campaign to gain the vote in the early years of the 21st century – should be a timely reminder of how far we haven’t come in politics and in art.

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