FRANK Marcus’s 50-year-old play The Killing of Sister George, staged by Taunton Thespians until 15th March, comes from a very different time, but one which includes eerie predictions of life in the 21st century.
District nurse Sister George is a favourite character on a BBC radio soap, but the powers that be decide to bump her off to increase the ratings.
She is played by June Buckridge, a butch dyke at the time when public knowledge of sexual “deviance” would have been fatal to a career in the public eye – no matter what Queen Victoria might have said.
The actress lives, in view of Broadcasting House, with a young woman called Childie, and their relationship is the centre of this play.
The story is perhaps best known from the film, starring Beryl Reid, Susannah Yorke and Coral Brown and famous for its sex scene. In the play, the sex is implied, but implied it must be, and that is the problem with the Thespians production, directed by Michael Gilbert. I could not believe in this relationship, though my companion, and many others in the audience, did not share my scepticism.
The versatile Jane Edwards plays George (as June Buckridge is known by her friends, colleagues and the public) with clumping gusto, and captures the poignancy of this woman who has absolutely no idea how to do soft emotion. She thinks ritual cruelty is somehow attractively funny.
Lucy Monaghan’s Childie is needy but calculating. If she ever loved the monstrous George, she surely doesn’t now, and (mostly) who could blame her? But the character’s simpering dependence on George is missing.
Jane Leakey’s clairvoyant neighbour Madame Xenia is a comic joy, and Alison Haines is perfectly chilly as the ambitious and hypocritical BBC executive Mrs Mercy Croft.
It’s a cruel play about womens’ inhumanity to women, a satirical comedy shining light on the changeless essence of the BBC, and a vivid illustration that when troubles come they come not single spies but in batallions.