‘Dyke heaven’ is how a character in Maureen Chadwick’s new drama describes the place where she’s inexplicably ended up. But, as the play progresses, the setting – a version of Chelsea’s long-shut lesbian Gateways Club – proves less heaven and more spooky purgatory.
Queenie, Ollie and Shirley arrive at the nightclub having been put there by the ‘powers that be’ to face up to the truth of their sexuality.This is far from easy, especially as Queenie has vehemently denied she is a lesbian for over 50 years.
Chadwick – who is most well-known for her TV work as writer and producer of ‘Bad Girls’ – creates a premise that’s too far-fetched. Having unseen puppet-masters who preside over the three and push them into self-examination is an easy way of manipulating the action but feels disappointingly unreal.
Yet despite this, the show is a fond and droll exploration of identity and love. Most of the script’s sharper one-liners go to Amanda Boxer’s Ollie, whose slapstick performance is a lot of fun. She provides the balance to the other two painfully earnest characters.
Polly Hemingway does well as Queenie, considering. There’s not enough plausible build-up for her character to convincingly make a transition from hugely repressed to out and proud. But she drives the show along with a taut, spicy energy.
The play isn’t as urgent or as directly relevant to the present-day as Alexi Kaye Campbell’s ‘The Pride’ – which opened recently in London and covers similar territory. Nevertheless, Chadwick still brings out a sense of the terrible damage done to people who were made to believe that what they felt was wrong.
By Daisy Bowie-Sell