Reviewed on Wednesday 16th September 2015
Hot on the heels of Kinky Boots' West End press night, Casa Valentina is the second Harvey Fierstein show to open in the West End this week. Set in the early sixties, the play is staged in a retreat where a group of heterosexual men can leave behind their everyday worries and cross-dress for a weekend in peace... well at least that's the plan.
Elements of Casa Valentina really are fascinating, such as the dynamic of George (known to some as Valentina) and Rita's marriage. At first the duo – who run the retreat – seem to have an incredibly deep level of trust in their relationship, but eventually cracks begin to show.
Ben Deery, Bruce Montague, Robert Morgan, Matt Rixon, Ashley Robinson, Gareth Snook and Edward Wolstenholme play the ensemble of cross-dressers. They share strong chemistry during some very witty scenes. Snook is on particular fine form whilst Deery endears as Jonathan who is stepping out as Miranda in the company of others for the very first time. I also enjoyed Tamsin Carroll's Rita; she fully embraces the intimacy of the Southwark Playhouse during her dramatic scenes, performing with great detail.
At times there is a certain intensity to Luke Sheppard's production which builds and builds. In some scenes it starts to feel as if Fierstein has tried to squeeze in as many one-liners as possible… with some landing more successfully than others. There is no denying that there are some truly hysterical moments which had myself and those around me in fits of laughter.
Fierstein raises a bunch of interesting questions and issues surrounding sexuality, boundaries and identity which makes you think. He draws you in with the humour and then pulls the carpet up from beneath your feet. However, I didn't find the ending - which I won't give away - particularly effective. Throughout the piece there are some hugely thought provoking moments, but ultimately I left the theatre feeling a little deflated. A few scenes could also be tighter and some cuts should be made; one scene towards the end of the first act dragged on for so long that I almost nodded off.
At its peak Casa Valentina is joyfully witty and intriguingly gritty, but during a couple of dips the piece loses steam. I love the style of Sheppard's production; scenes flow smoothly and you really do feel as if you are peering into the complex lives of these characters. Whilst it has flaws, Casa Valentina is a bold and funny play which is not afraid to be different.
Reviewed by Andrew Tomlins (Editor)
Casa Valentina runs at the Southwark Playhouse until 10th October 2015.
Please visit www.southwarkplayhouse.co.uk for further information and tickets.
Photo Credit: Robert Workman