Review: The Laundry, Drayton Arms Theatre

With a running time of only 80 minutes, The Laundry packs a lot in as it moves to explore themes around female relationships and the bond between families. Written by Nicole Palomba, Audrey Thayer and Brandon Force, this two-act play tells the story of three generations of women and the struggles they’ve faced in life.

Russian-born Ava (Fiona Watson), now residing in a British care home, tells the tale of her past to her carer while she waits for a visitor, who she presumes is her daughter, Anna. When they were younger Ava and her sister Anina (Nicole Palomba) were forced to flee their family home ahead of the Revolution, and the two of them ended up in a Gulag labour camp where they worked in the laundry. After attracting the attention of their prison guard Anina fell pregnant, but then made a drastic decision to ensure the safety of her baby and sister. Years later, after raising the baby as her own, Ava and daughter Anna (Palomba) became estranged, with Anna’s desire to know more about her past driving a wedge between them, while Anna’s own daughter Hannah (Verity Williams) later gets in touch with her grandmother, wanting to find out more about her family.

The Laundry features some memorable moments – the scene where all three generations of women do their laundry is effective and motivating, while Hannah’s description of grief and the loss of her mother tugs on the heart strings. The play captures the attention of the audience well, which is no mean feat considering that the second act is set in a sort of Neverland, where Hannah and Ava interact with the ghost of Anna. The symbolism within the play also works well – the shoes set out at the front of the stage representing those in Ava’s life is particularly poignant at times, although the metaphor of the matryoshka dolls is somewhat over-used by the end.

The stories of all three women are interesting but there’s a lot crammed into such a short space of time, therefore it’s hard to warm to these characters given the little development. Some of the plotlines could have been cut to allow for more exploration of others – Hannah’s interaction with a stranger (Andrew Hodson) in Panama for example seems unnecessary and doesn’t move the story on. The play also proves shocking viewing in places, with references to suicide uncomfortable to watch.

Director Tracy Collier succeeds in moving the story through decades and across continents, and especially to an ethereal world without it seeming too ridiculous, while the cast all put in strong performances, doing particularly well in the balmy conditions of the Drayton Arms Theatre. Fiona Watson is engaging as Ava, drawing the audience into her story, and her desperation to see her estranged daughter is touching. Verity Williams is endearing as young Ava wanting to protect her sister and later in her performance as the strong-willed Hannah, although her character’s ending seems a little unlikely given her supposed independence. Nicole Palomba is likeable as Anna but it’s her character who feels the most underdeveloped, and it would have been more effective to have seen more of her in life rather than a fleeting scene of her on her travels. As the only male in the cast, Andrew Hodson does well to differentiate between his characters for the most part, although it does get a little confusing when it comes to Hannah’s acquaintance in Panama and later her husband.

The Laundry explores some interesting themes around female relationships, all brought to life by a talented cast, but unfortunately it tries to take on too much, resulting in the characters and plot sadly feeling a little underdeveloped.

Three stars

This review was originally written for Mind the Blog. To read the original, click here.

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