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Review: Treating Odette at Upstairs at the Gatehouse

A British spy, a film star and a beautician – all the ingredients of a beautifully acted post-war costume drama

28 July, 2017 — By Lucy Popescu

Charlotte Peak, Red Gray, Jessica Boyde in Treating Odette

John and Katie Plews have turned the space above the Gatehouse pub in Highgate into a much-loved theatre with a loyal following and an impressive range of drama and musicals.

Their latest fringe premiere is set in 1949 and follows meetings between film star Anna Neagle (Red Gray) and war hero Odette Churchill (Jessica Boyde) in a Mayfair beauty salon. Anna is starring in a film about Odette’s life and they become friends.

During the Second World War, Odette had been a British spy and resistance fighter. Captured in France, she endured torture and imprisonment at the hands of the Gestapo before being sent to Ravensbruck concentration camp.

Anna and Odette are both attended to by Cyclax beautician Patricia (Charlotte Peak), a former Land Girl and Wren who dreams of marrying her sweetheart.

With a different emphasis, this could have been a fascinating play about three different women and the struggle to retain their independence after the war. Instead, Jennifer Selway focuses on key moments in Odette’s life and Anna’s marriage to her director-producer Herbert Wilcox, with only a few hints as to how Odette survived her ordeal.

The women’s stories are interesting but, for 75 minutes, make for rather static action. Treating Odette is beautifully acted, with great period accents, costumes and an impressive set design from Emily Bestow, but I couldn’t help feeling it would have benefitted from less chat, more depth.

I’m quite willing to admit this may be a matter of taste, because it played to a rapt audience.

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