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Three undead lesbians walk into a bar. It’s not quite the joke we were expecting, but this surreal new play from Maureen Chadwick, the bolshy writer and creator of TV dramas Bad Girls, Footballers’ Wives and Waterloo Road follows the trials and tribulations of two women in love who have been fighting their feelings for each other against the need to live a “normal” heterosexual existence all their lives. So far not so surreal you may say, until you factor in that the debates over sexuality and normality are raging as our characters have indeed died and are trapped in the mysterious purgatory of “The Gateways” nightclub, otherwise known, as drunken Charlie Chaplin lookalike Ollie remarks as “dyke heaven”.
The stage’s battered old bar and clanky old jukebox serves as an effective backdrop, then, to three very different women united by their issues caused by being gay and female in the modern world, each with their own coping strategies. The aforementioned Ollie (Amanda Boxer) is happy to drown her sorrows in drink and cigars, whereas Queenie (Polly Hemingway) at first appears reluctant to admit she has ever had feelings for another woman – that is until the secret love of her life Shirley (Mia Mackie) pops into the homosexual shindig. Isn’t it always the case that of all the undead lesbian hangouts in all the underworld she had to walk into mine?
Maureen Chadwick has certainly had some fun writing the script of The Speed Twins as it’s full of zingy one-liners and bitchy putdowns that keep the pace fresh and the laughs steady. Alcoholic Ollie gets the lion’s share of funny material but when needed, Polly Hemmingway’s Queenie can rip anyone to shreds with just a flick of the hair and an evil stare. Mia Mackie occasionally comes across as wooden compared to the other two, and for all the embraces and lovelorn looks, it’s sometimes difficult to imagine her character and Hemmingway’s in any kind of lustful whirlwind romance – Mackie’s Shirley is a little too earnest to find entirely endearing and the chemistry between the pair isn’t quite there.
Still, Chadwick has done it again in creating a fully rounded world based on intelligent and for the most part interesting women, rather than the all too often two dimensional cardboard cut-outs that can sadly stand for female characters even now. Whether it quite manages to hit the mark between entertaining and thought provoking or not all the time, there’s a lot to like in The Speed Twins, whether it’s the witty quips, copious amounts of onstage drinking or simply the bizarre picture of Charlie Chaplin and a Beauty Queen having a waltz to some retro 60s pop music.