The Revlon Girl opens with an evocative soundscape in pitch black, the audience experiencing an impending sense of doom as the slurry of colliery waste slides down the hill and buries part of the town of Aberfan. It’s 1966 – the colliery waste disaster kills 144 people, 116 of them children in a primary school at the bottom of the hill. Cut to eight months later, four women assembling for a lesson in make-up by a Revlon girl (Antonia Kinlay). But Neil Anthony Docking’s The Revlon Girl is so much more than a cosmetics tutorial – it’s a wonderfully emotional therapy session for the mothers and a captivating, heart-breaking production for the audience.
Maxine Evans’ production effortlessly balances touching revelations, tense aggressions and belly laughter comedy – The Revlon Girl pays homage to the people that are left behind when such a disaster takes place. The elephant in the room is tackled head-on instantly, Docking’s script cleverly throwing in a punch to the gut amid the joviality of make-up or the quibbles of a set of mothers about superficial matters. It’s a testament to the entire team that this production never lacks focus or forgets its history; each of the actors are so entrenched in their characters that they naturally bring the audience into the room with them. It’s inevitable, we are swept up in the discussion by Evans’ perfectly paced patter.
Even in a small community such as Aberfan, The Revlon Girl introduces a variety of personalities, a reminder that there is no one way to tackle grief. Each of the women have their quibbles with the other and their motivations for coming to the tutorial. Sian (Charlotte Gray) is the organiser – a scatty, no filter individual who is desperate to make herself look beautiful so that her husband will notice her again. Suddenly the seeming frivolity of make-up takes on impact and poignancy – the argument of superficial beauty reveals itself to be one of deep rooted self-confidence, a restorative elixir. The make-up can make everyone forget for a brief moment, feel once again like women and not like bereaved mothers.
From the heart-breaking sincerity of Sian, Docking moves through the ballsy confidence of Rona (Bethan Thomas), confidently rooted in the grim reality of their plight; the fragile denial of Marilyn (Michelle McTernan), who is still frantically awaiting her girls to come home; and the prim and proper stoicism of Jean (Zoë Harrison), whose religious faith is the only thing getting her through the tragedy. Docking sketches each of the women with clarity but it is the actors who fill them in with spectacular colour. The Revlon Girl is an ensemble production, a chemistry that effortlessly flows through all the women to the extent that every unnatural reaction, awkward pause or moment of simultaneous laughter and sorrow is intended, executed with purpose and strength. Evans’ direction galvanises a production that never feels disingenuous.
The Revlon Girl concludes in an exquisite display of solidarity – even Charlotte, the Revlon girl (Kinlay), can empathise with the community in her own small way. As the lights dim and the soundscape swells to an emotionally charged final composition, the silhouette of the women against the backdrop is one of togetherness and camaraderie. Docking’s tale could easily feel too difficult to relate to, but under Evans guiding hand, the horror is broken down into individual moments that an audience can all too effectively understand. The Revlon Girl is simultaneously a touching tribute and an uplifting production, effortless in its exceptional execution.
Director: Maxine Evans
Producer: Independence Shows
Writer: Neil Anthony Docking
Design: Eleri Lloyd (set); Chris Barrett (lighting)
Cast: Charlotte Gray; Zoë Harrison; Antonia Kinlay; Michelle McTernan; Bethan Thomas
The Revlon Girl plays Park Theatre until 14 October 2017. For more information or to book tickets, please visit the website.