After Anna Francolini on Monday and the Judy Garlands yesterday, I’m going for a hat trick of blogs about amazing women today so that I can tell you this: if you haven’t yet seen Linda at the Royal Court yet, get your skates on.
You’ve only got until 9 January to see this new play by Penelope Skinner which features – count them, gender equity fans – five fully-fledged female characters, all complex women at different, pivotal points in their lives; and at the helm, in the title role, one of the most extraordinary performances from any actress you’re likely to see this year or next.
As Linda, Noma Dumezweni, onstage for most of the two hours and forty minutes, is extraordinary not just for the gale force with which she tackles this role of Shakespearean size and scope – but also for her utter fearlessness. It was the high Hollywood wattage Kim Cattrall who was originally due to star, but Cattrall pulled out, on doctor’s advice, during rehearsals. Noma stepped in just ten days before press night – which went ahead as scheduled. How many other actors, male or female, would have the, well, balls?!
The night after opening, when I attended, Noma was still “on book”, now and then consulting looseleaf pages of script which she carried around as just another casual prop, doubling as business papers in one scene (Linda is a senior marketing executive) or tucked in the pages of a magazine or cookbook in others. She made it seem totally natural, her occasional muddling of words and slight distraction an understandable reaction to the myriad pressures in Linda’s life. (I’m sure Noma is word-perfect by now, by the way.)
Noma’s heroics seem all the more apt considering the role: Linda is a “woman of a certain age”, who is also a successful marketing director for a cosmetics company, a woman who has spent a career championing “real beauty” and bolstering female confidence. She has fought and continues to fight, as women must, to be heard, to be seen, to be taken seriously. It’s a great role that Penelope Skinner has written for a great actress; she has found one who does it justice.
I also talk about Linda with fellow bloggers Gareth James and Tim Watson on this week’s As Yet Unnamed London Theatre Podcast here.
Here are favourite nuggets from Penelope Skinner’s Linda, which is directed by Michael Longhurst. The other fantastic women in the cast are: Imogen Byron and Karla Crome as Linda’s daughters, Amy Beth Hayes as Linda’s conniving younger colleague and Merriel Plummer as her husband’s regretful mistress.
“I feel like life is happening all around me. I used to be the protagonist of my life and now suddenly I’m starting to feel irrelevant.”
“On the few occasions you do see a woman of your actual age group in an advert she’s either Helen Mirren (the only older woman still allowed to exist) or – she’s selling you meals on wheels.”
“When you watch a story about ‘men’ you know the stakes are really high. Because men might like actually kill each other. Whereas when you watch a story about a ‘woman’, it’s more like what’s at stake is more like ‘when is she going to get married?’”
“Hamlet’s just a wankfest for bays. Five hours of some twat thinking out loud and then killing himself. Boring.”
“My God, if I’d had half the opportunities you girls have? I’d be running the world. These are the years you mustn’t waste. You want to be a success? You’ve got to start young.”
“Threatened? David, I’m an award-winning business woman. I’m happily married with two beautiful daughters and I still fit in the same size-ten dress suit I did fifteen years ago. What could possibly threaten me?”
“You think all you need to do is tell us we’re beautiful and we’ll be happy, well you’re wrong and you’re deluded because we don’t want to be told we’re beautiful. We never did. We want to be told we’re funny. Or clever. Or worth something. We want to be recognised for who we actually are not just who you want us to be.”