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Oleanna by Theatre Royal Bath - Review

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by ABC Writer (subscribe)
Freelance journalist with a passion for theatre, the arts, food and books.
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#MeToo themes in enthralling play
It's hard to believe this play with themes of political correctness and cancel culture is from 30 years ago as it feels so fresh and relevant, especially in the wake of the #MeToo movement.

Oleanna, UK tour, theatre Royal Bath, malvern
A student - teacher session takes a turn for the worst

David Mamet's provocative play has been given a refresh by Theatre Royal Bath and as a two-hander, it's ideal to tour as theatres tentatively open up after Covid.

I caught the production early at Malvern Festival Theatre ahead of it doing a stint in London's West End at Arts Theatre London from July to October.

It's a slick, short piece over three acts that never loses your attention. That's mainly because of the fine performances by the two leads, both heralding from the Royal Shakespeare Company(RSC)

RSC giant Jonathan Slinger plays the arrogant college professor whose interactions with Rosie Sheehy's nervy female student turns his life around when she files a complaint. Sheehy was magnificent in the title role of King John for the RSC a few years ago and is on form again in this drama, developing her character with such depth that the finale is a revelation.

Oleanna, UK tour, theatre Royal Bath, malvern
Jonathan Slinger and Rosie Sheehy are excellent on stage

Set on an American campus, it's strange to hear Slinger, one of the best Shakespearean actors of his generation, with a US twang, but he does it with a natural elegance and the accent never falters.

Director Lucy Bailey maintains the tension beautifully and leaves an ambiguity that allows plenty of room for discussion as neither of the characters come out of it well.

Over a series of meetings, the detailed discussions intelligently build up to a fascinating dilemma. The emotion feels very raw and there's a genuineness that makes you feel as though you are eavesdropping on a real conversation.

Oleanna, UK tour, theatre Royal Bath, malvern
Thought-provoking drama

It's refreshing to see something that isn't clear cut and the underlying themes challenge the audience to consider the dynamics of power and manipulation. It asks us to question at what point boundaries are overstepped and can the words we use be as damaging as hitting out physically.

Oleanna is everything that I've missed about theatre. It's thought-provoking, enthralling and intelligent drama with two actors at the top of their game. You'd be a fool to miss it.

Oleanna runs at Malvern Festival Theatre until Saturday July 17.

Oleanna runs at Arts Theatre London from July 21 to October 23.

Running Time: Approximately 1 hour 20 minutes, no interval.
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Why? See fascinating play on cancel culture and Me Too
When: Until October on tour
Phone: Various
Where: Malvern and London
Cost: From 15
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