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A play of grief, hope and guilt opens at Ilkley Playhouse

Opening this week - a review of The Revlon Girl which runs at Ilkley Playhouse 9th to 18th March.

There are places in our country whose very names are synonymous with events that have made them famous for all the wrong reasons – Lockerbie, Dunblane, Hungerford, Hillsborough and of course, Aberfan. The Revlon Girl, which opens at Ilkley Playhouse this week, is set in the last of these places and so of course, from the beginning and throughout, there is no getting away from the tragic landslide which changed the lives of so many families suddenly and forever. However, this play deals far more with the human spirit and how it adapts to, strains with and challenges disaster, than how it dwells on it.

The play opens in the upper room of a pub. A very simple, black box set built with only a section of roof and a skylight, our attention is drawn to familiar images from the time, projected on to the back wall. It is raining and the roof is leaking but a group of women is expecting a make-up demonstration from the Revlon Girl who has driven up from London specially.

A stellar cast take on the all-female roles. With the exception of the eponymous character, all the women play bereaved mothers who are slowly coming to terms with what has happened to them – one is angry, another in denial, another determined to carry on and one clutching at her faith – all deeply mourning. The Revlon Lady, Becky Kordowicz, is perhaps there to represent us all – an outsider coming into the most damaged of communities, and we watch her struggle to be where most people can’t even bear to imagine. Becky’s pain is obvious and deeply moving – it is so easy to put ourselves into her shoes whilst to put ourselves into those of the mothers would be intolerable.

And yet, this is not a play which either diminishes or dwells on the agonies suffered by Aberfan. As the play proceeds, we watch the relationships between the women as they snipe and bicker, as well as supporting and loving each other and as they speculate about what their children could have become. Anna Riley, as Rhona, is especially bitter, wanting to escape the Valleys and head to England. Somehow a familiar character, Rhona is someone who is determined to get on with life, knowing that she will have to bear the burden of the grief which has necessarily hardened her.

Victoria Bandy plays Marilyn – a woman half -deranged by the loss of her daughters whom she tries so hard to believe will return to her one day. Paula Boyle is Jean, grieving and also carrying within her, hope for the future – both physically and spiritually. Juliet Harrison is Sian, the organiser and a woman who initially could be mistaken for the mother of a survivor until it becomes apparent that perhaps she has become adept at covering her emotions. Each of these fine actors is clearly stirred by what they are having to portray and this makes for a deeply affecting evening of drama at its most raw.

Mark Simister has directed with enormous compassion and understanding and has somehow made sure that this play is hugely watchable and enjoyable – but one which might make you clutch your loved ones a little closer.

The Revlon Girls runs between 9th - 18th March, for tickets visit or contact Ilkley Playhouse box office on 01943 609539.

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