Ovation’s latest production is a triumph of warmth and wit, powered on by three remarkable performances, seamless direction and a beautiful set to boot at Highgate’s Upstairs at The Gatehouse.
Treating Odette is based on an extraordinary true story. Anna Neale, Britain’s wartime darling, has been cast to play Odette Churchill, a French woman who left her husband and children in Kensington to spy on the Nazi’s in Vichy France.
The two women could not be more different, and Odette is reluctantly thrown into a limelight she didn’t seek. Anna, played by Red Gray, is a woman who seems to have no cares in the world, and gifts Odette, French-English actress Jessica Boyde, with 15 sessions at her favourite beauty parlour in Mayfair. Here she is pampered by Patricia, a young beautician brought to life by Charlotte Peak.
Odette’s story is extraordinary, but the play bravely chooses not to focus on her past experiences of horrific torture, starvation and isolation. Treating Odette instead keeps the play very much in its own present – that of Cyclax beauty salon in post war London. It subtly reminds us that the war didn’t simply end in 1945. Patricia bemoans life under rationing, and Odette’s skin and feet are ravaged from her trauma, probably forever. Anna cannot cast off the public pressure to represent British morale, and continues to keep calm and carry on long after VE day.
The beauty in this play lies in the three performances of its stars. Red Gray begins the play as a self-aware Anna who is constantly acting and keeping up appearances. The slow letting down of her guards around the other two women is very impressive, as her own insecurities and vulnerabilities show in the subtext of the script.
Charlotte Peak is radiant as Patricia Law, a beautiful woman inside and out who finds genuine pleasure in treating all of her clients, even if she isn’t quite satisfied with her career choice. Her natural performance and intimate knowledge of the ins and outs of the set and props deepened the realism the piece – I spent the entire play utterly convinced I was seeing the action in an actual beauty parlour and that Patricia had worked there for years.
As the courageous and dry-witted Odette, Jessica Boyde was given a dream of a part. Yet her performance even managed to exceed the fantastic material she was given. Her comic timing was pitch perfect, and she never once slipped into melodrama. Even during the brief flashback scenes, every facial expression and movement was entirely real.
The production was authentically 1950s. It wasn’t just the fantastic costumes and set, but the manner in which the actresses conducted themselves. John Plews directs with such realism that the piece didn’t feel like it was directed at all but that the three women were simply interacting on stage. Jennifer Selway’s script is full of painstaking research and dark humour, as well as a clear love for her characters and their bravery in their respective battles. My only criticism is that the piece felt a little long, and that the opening scene at Elstree felt out of place and ruined the neatness of the otherwise contained storyline.
Audiences will find it difficult not to fall for these three charming, fascinating women, in a rather charming and fascinating piece.