“How we be friends? When I ain’t never been through your front door”
The Theatre Royal Bath hit on another winner with this production of Lynn Nottage’s Intimate Apparel and so it has transferred over to the Park Theatre to let Londoners who don’t travel have a slice of the action. The play was inspired by Nottage finding faded photographs of her great-grandparents and then spinning an affectionate fantasia on the lives of African-American people at the turn of the twentieth century.
She imagines the life of Esther, an unmarried black seamstress in her mid-thirties in 1905 New York, who is a true exponent of her craft. People come from far and wide for the exquisite lingerie that she creates and her clients include women of all classes and colour and so she has managed to save up quite the nest egg. Her plans for the future include running her own salon but when a romantic correspondence is struck up with the Barbadian George, she dares to dream of more.
But just as internet dating is today rife with difficulties with people hiding behind fake or enhanced photographs, this play reminds us that romance via love letters is just as full of peril as it turns out that George’s florid turn of phrase masks a brusque personality that brings a harsh reality once he arrives in New York from the Panama Canal where he has been working. Tanya Moodie and Chu Omambala play this relationship out beautifully, a huge subtlety is at work in Laurence Boswell’s production.
It might be too understated for some but I loved it, the aching melancholy at its heart is most touching and Moodie absolutely nails it, overcoming her illiteracy with the help of friends who have their own hopes, dreams and frustrations and the patchwork of forgotten lives is brought vividly to life by all concerned – Ilan Goodman’s Jewish haberdasher, Sara Topham’s Caucasian socialite, Dawn Hope’s pragmatic landlady, there’s not a weak link to be had. Highly recommended.