Touched

Trafalgar Studios, 4 February – 14 March 2009

Reviewed for the British Theatre Guide

Since beginning her acting career at the Manchester Royal Exchange Theatre, Sadie Frost has enjoyed a number of film roles on both sides of the camera. So what is it about Zoe Lewis’ new play Touched that tempted Frost out of celluloid’s clammy embrace and back behind the footlights?

Probably only Frost herself can answer that question. Lewis’ writing is accomplished, fluent and frequently very funny, but for a one-woman show Touched places surprisingly few demands on its star.

Frost plays Lesley, a Madonna-obsessed (and slightly dim) 14 year old that grows into a Madonna-obsessed (and slightly dim) student, then career girl. She narrates her growth into adulthood, complete with sexual and other awakenings, in and around a rumpled double bed, a bathroom sink and a huge mirror.

The mirror forms the back wall of the space and the modesty screen for Frost’s many costume changes. It’s festooned with fairy lights and plastered with pictures of Madonna; when Lesley looks in the mirror, she sees not herself, but her sparkling idol.

(Inexplicably, the publicity material persists in referring to Lesley as “plump”. Frost is anything but, and the script makes no mention whatsoever of Lesley’s weight.)

Fans of the Queen of Pop will no doubt enjoy Lesley’s running commentary on the fluctuating quality of her music, delivered while dressed in versions of her more memorable outfits and punctuated by reconstructions of her most famous dance routines.

Likewise, fans of Frost can enjoy being up close and personal in the intimate Trafalgar Studio 2. But while she’s as uninhibited as a stage actor (and Modern Woman) should be – portraying with abandon a young fan’s ability to lose herself in the music – the play doesn’t allow her to show off anything particularly noteworthy.

The problem is Lesley’s fixation with Madonna. Which, unfortunately, is the premise around which her characterisation revolves.

Madonna stands in for the concept of the Modern Woman from the 80s until today. Her many reinventions symbolise the chameleonic properties ascribed the Modern Woman by the changing expectations of society.

So Lesley makes all the important decisions in her life – when to lose her virginity; whether to choose marriage or career prospects; her sexuality – on the basis of Madonna lyrics. Which is such a monumentally stupid idea that we’re disinclined to feel sympathetic when those decisions inevitably backfire.

Frost is to be commended for at least making Lesley engaging to watch – though the conversational style of Lewis’ writing and the small performance space, which allows for plenty of conspiratorial eye contact with the audience, make her task that much easier.

Most troubling is the apparent conclusion that Lesley would have led a happier life had she settled down in her hometown with the first man she slept with, instead of pursuing her (admittedly facile) ambitions to London and New York.

While Lesley seems happy to acknowledge the might-have-beens and move on, the positioning of that throwaway suggestion right before the house lights ensures that it sticks in the audience’s minds on the way home.

Of course, it’s only a point of view – but as a conclusion to a play awash with images and doctrines of Women’s Liberation, it feels a little self-contradictory.

Written by Zoe Lewis

Crew includes Douglas Rintoul (director), Colin Richmond (set designer), Jamie Bradley (movement director) and Laura Thomas and Sian Jenkins (costume)

Cast includes Sadie Frost (Lesley)

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