Not so; this being Fay Weldon, there’s plenty of zesty wit to leaven the Late Review vibe. The reading group itself, while sparking some close-to-the-bone interpretations of Flaubert and Brontë, is more a structural device for getting a cross-section of lonely and directionless women into a living room for a good old-fashioned spat. Lesley (played with a studied nerviness by Anna Ryder) is the first guest to arrive, a recent divorcee whose bitterness is only further soured by her inclination towards the bottle. On the arrival of jealous (though not desperate) housewife Anne (Chloe Masterton), viperish stress counsellor Avril (Sophie Pimm) and spinsterly pedagogue Zelda (Kristen Rau), the audience might be forgiven for thinking that Weldon doesn’t believe in happy ever after. Nevertheless, as the plot turns towards its close, there are some surprises that disperse the frowns; just as in Anne’s favourite novels, the good appear to be rewarded and the bad punished.
This isn’t a morality play, though; nor is it particularly weighty. It aims to be realistic, and I can certainly imagine that reading groups like this one exist outside of the theatre. All the actors play their parts naturalistically, and nothing is overdone. Aneeqa Khan, who plays the mastermind behind the group, Oriole, is confident enough to take her foot off the gas when needs be, while Chloe Masterton sports an expression halfway between incredulity and naïveté throughout. The two men, played by Andre Veiga and Jamie Dundas, are just that; men. Frequently they look confused to be even on set, never mind taking part in the action. The women spend most of their time ushering them offstage in order to preserve their sorority, so their perplexed faces are consistent with the drama; but being left very little to do causes me to wonder whether they’re needed at all.
Still, this is an entertainment, not a Shakespearean tragedy. Weldon apparently wrote it during a break between novels, as a gift to the Welsh Townswomen Guild, and this could well be its first performance since then. Student theatre continually throws up surprises in between reruns of "The Importance of Being Earnest", and this isn’t one of the most memorable, but it’s short, to the point, and doesn’t leave a nasty taste in the mouth.