Ivy and Joan is a double bill of duologues running at Jermyn Street Theatre until 24th January 2015. It explores the primary relationships of two women in their middle age, as they reach crucial turning points of their existence. Both roles, one in the first, one in the second act, are played by Lynne Miller, who characterises Ivy and Joan poignantly but independently. After the interval she moves with ease from one character to the next, and far from replicating Ivy in Joan, the two characters are completely individual but with universally identifiable emotions. Also, in both acts the excellent Jack Klaff plays the other half of Ivy and Joan’s only real human bond, respectively Victor and Eric.
Ivy is a crabby live-in hotel employee who has been working behind a bar for forty years. Due to her uncompromising nature and rude tongue she has been given her notice to leave. Her long suffering colleague Victor, a gentle soul who urges her to leave for her bus placidly and without fuss, is beleaguered by her final loud laments and protestations. Even now she persists in the fantasy that her ‘Harry’ will be returning from the sea to marry her. She has, after all, written to him care of the Merchant Seaman’s Association. It is evident that she is terrified of leaving the workplace which has been her home for so long. Her defensive attitude is revealed as insubstantial and her last stab at maintaining a foothold in the only life she has ever known.
Joan is a victim of mental illness who is stubbornly refusing expert psychiatric care. Her behaviour, which has ruined her marriage on a recent ill fated holiday to Venice, is childish and selfish. Also delusional, she believes herself not only to be a talented painter and writer, but also to have been the object of a young academic’s attention on that trip to Venice. We soon find out that the admirer was an ageing and opportunistic gigolo. The tragedy of Joan’s situation is that she is a supremely intelligent woman who never got the chance to make something of herself. She tells her husband Eric, ‘I nearly went to university’.
The feel of Ivy and Joan is reminiscent of Alan Bennett’s Talking Heads although in a milder form. It sees the protagonist fashion her own misfortune, and almost deliberately cause the erosion and dissolution of their only support. It is emotive but there are no risks here, nothing theatrically novel or brave. Perhaps this is because both plays are quite negative about women entering this later stage of life. There are moments of wonderful humour but there is not a lot to alleviate the despondency, or to suggest that these women have ever been other than as we find them. Ivy and Joan bends to a rather old fashioned portrayal of older women being mean spirited, delusional, mad, self-destructive and unfulfilled. It is still extremely stirring to watch and the commitment of the actors to their roles is unsurpassed; in it’s truly touching sincerity the play is faultless. There is no doubt that this is the heart-rending experience of some women, somewhere but in being a double bill of rather similar emotion it comes across as being a blanket statement about the experience of all women everywhere. This probably does a disservice to the writer, whose skill at capturing dialogue and humanity is evident.
Altogether, Ivy and Joan is an enjoyable if somewhat predictable watch about a life experience which is recognisable. It finds its strength in provoking an emotional response of sadness dotted with moments of very affecting humour and one can’t help but leave feeling moved and with a resolution to avoid the same fate of missed opportunities and loss which are presented by Ivy and Joan.
Review by Annemarie Hiscott
Jermyn Street Theatre presents IVY & JOAN
Written by James Hogan, Directed by Anthony Biggs, Designed by Victoria Johnstone, Lighting Design by Charlie Lucas, Sound Design by Gareth Mcleod, Line produced by Mark Sands
Late in life two women start new lives and leave home.
But where is home? Did they ever really have one?
Ivy & Joan never meet. They do not know each other. They have nothing in common except a lifetime spent without love.
Ivy, a redundant waitress, clings to her memories. Joan, an amateur painter, travels to Venice, the city of dreams, but there her dreams end. Lost in loneliness, both women can still smile. But what lies hidden beyond a brave face? Encounter Ivy & Joan each of them wants to tell you her story.
Two intimate, funny and heartbreaking tales of loss.
Lynne Miller (Best known for her role as WPc Cathy Marshall in The Bill from 1989 – 1996) and Jack Klaff (Star Wars, For Your eyes Only).
Tuesday to Saturday 7.30pm, Saturday/Sunday matinees 3.30pm
Call the Box Office for further information on: 020 7287 2875
Book online: http://www.jermynstreettheatre.co.uk
Friday 9th January 2015