Review: Chalet Lines

Written for Exeunt

Chalet Lines, Madani Younis’ first production as Artistic Director of the Bush Theatre, explodes the constricting nature of family ties. Lee Mattinson’s fraught comedy, with its feminist undertones, emphasis on emotional and sexual disappointments, and exploration of  societal pressures,  appears influenced by writers like Caryl Churchill and Charlotte Keatley. Mattinson is a Newcastle-based playwright (his monologue, Donna Disco, was recently seen on the Live Theatre stage) and Younis now introduces him to a London audience.

It’s Nana Barbara’s seventieth birthday and Loretta, her caustic eldest child, and her two granddaughters, Abigail and Jolene, have returned to the site of her wedding, Butlins in Skegness, to celebrate the occasion. Perhaps not unexpectedly the atmosphere soon begins to deflate quicker than Nana’s birthday balloons as it becomes clear Loretta’s estranged sister Paula isn’t going to be coming and the one liners become ever more lacerating. Mattinson’s play hops back and forth in time, between birthday, hen do and wedding day, unravelling each key moment of betrayal that has brought us to this point before returning us to a present where the emotional cracks are more like crevices.

Mattinson’s humour is brash yet sharp, if also a little obvious in places and it is not until everyone’s wounds are fully laid bare that Chalet Lines really starts to take shape. The play becomes darker in tone and there are some moments of heartbreaking cruelty from Loretta, especially towards her own eldest daughter, Abigail. Loretta may be a little over-the-top at times but she is a wretchedly vivid portrait of a woman trapped by her own fears.

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