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Lady Dealer at Bush Theatre | Review

A personal piece of long-form poetry that launches heavy truths but doesn’t quite land. Lady Dealer is the follow-up play from Martha Watson Allpress that certainly has its moments but leaves a lot unexplored.

Alexa Davies in Lady Dealer at Bush Theatre. Photo credit: Harry Elletson
Alexa Davies in Lady Dealer at Bush Theatre. Photo credit: Harry Elletson

It’s a normal day for Charly, she’s woken up to her admittedly underwhelming flat and is ready for her callers to get on the line. Her morning hype-up music is coursing through the estate when the power cuts out. Her connection to the outside world is gone, her vocation cut off and her life shut down. But crucially, above all, her phones are out of charge. Phones plural? you might ask. Phones plural because Charly is a dealer, sorry a Lady Dealer, maybe the lady dealer. She went to a big posh uni, and for some reason still seems to cross paths with the red chino-wearing alumnus of those universities, but is keenly aware that she was the university’s token working-class girl.

Charly’s fast life is brought down to earth when the power goes. In this state, the writer goes beyond the immediate inconveniences of Charly’s predicament to illuminate what is really going on. The guarded relationship with her mother, an inability to move on from her ex and deep unease with herself come to the surface. I ought not to say much more, but with all these crises converging, I had hoped that it would play out. But what Watson Allpress does is drive us to the point of the crisis and then end the play. I’m not asking for a cosy resolution of Charly’s internal conflict but I felt the meaning and aftermath of Charly’s breakdown were unexplored.

The writing and performance both have their moments, the piece takes a long time to get into itself. But perhaps that is a requirement in a semi-spoken word style, and eventually, Charly (Alexa Davies) had us in their palm.

Emily Aboud’s direction and Jasmine Araujo’s design play nicely together, curating a playful environment that bounces off the audience and allows our imagination to do just the right amount of work. Watson Allpress’s writing skims the surface of wider conversations that arise when the dealing is discussed, but never steps into them, beyond a little class consciousness.

It’s a good show, but it spends the 75-minute runtime building to a crisis that we never truly explore, the performance never stops performing. Watson Allpress’s previous play Martha Gets Ready (For a date with a man who used to abuse her), might be accused of the same problem, but the premise of that made more sense, its dramaturgy providing glimpses into the past and while Lady Dealer does the same, it feels like the first half of a play, not the whole story.

3 Star Review

Review by Tom Carter

Writer – Martha Watson Allpress
Director – Emily Aboud
Set & Costume Designer – Jasmine Araujo
Lighting Designer – Bethany Gupwell

Performed by Alexa Davies

For Charly, every day is the same: neck some coffee, answer the phone, sell some drugs. The flat she once shared with her ex, Clo, is now the base of her growing business. And she’s fine with that. She’s fine! Charly is fine.

 But when a power cut hits her estate and the burner phone stops buzzing, she is forced to question exactly how fine she is. Desperate to escape the swell of feeling bubbling beneath the surface, Charly charges headfirst into a world of knockoff Morrissey’s, disapproving mothers, and the ghosts of girlfriends past.

Lady Dealer
Grace Dickson Productions in association with Bush Theatre
Based on an original design by Blythe Brett
15 May – 15 June 2024

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