Fri 24th – Tue 28th February 2012


Julie Fisher

at 01:30 on 25th Feb 2012



From the moment that you approach the entrance to Old Shire Hall, Satin draws you into its intoxicating world. Cast members in period costume are waiting on the steps to greet you, alternately jeering and enticing. And this is not to be the end of their interaction with you, for this is a show in which audience interaction is the name of the game.

Written and directed by Sam Kingston-Jones, the show presents the audience with a snapshot of life in a Victorian brothel, showing how the lives of four prostitutes, Jenny (Christina Ulfsparre), Holly (Daisy Cummings), Caroline (Caitlin McEwan), and Pearl (Steffi Walker), are turned upside down when Pearl's niece Elsie (Grace Cheatle) arrives from the country. Cheatle perfectly captures Elsie's sweet naivety, and her singing is beautiful, and Walker's drunken swagger is hilarious. The other three, regrettably, have less distinct roles, despite attempts to distinguish them from each other by references to Caroline's Christian faith or Jenny's fake Russian identity. But they nonetheless perform strongly, as well as showing off the West Yorkshire Playhouse's divine dresses.

Other than Jamie Hyde, who plays brothel owner Spencer, the male actors have less of a visible role. Instead, they sit amongst the audience, whispering questionable compliments into the ears of the women around them and making lewd remarks. Having had the dubious pleasure of receiving the attentions of Joshua (Alan Kirkbridge), all I can say is that this element of interaction only helped to garner sympathy for the female characters. It was a shame that the men were not given more time on stage, as the small insights which we were given into their characters showed them to be clever thought out and well-defined, perhaps better even than some of the women. There was Conor Turley as Bart the cleric, George Magner as Alan the bore, Morten Jacobsen as Victor the psychopath, and Xander Drury as Dave, your average lecherous Victorian gentleman. With a little more time, all of the characters could have been better developed.

Disappointingly, the acting was a little wooden at times, some lines being delivered without the necessary conviction, and accents wavering. It was also regrettable that the brass brand, whose accompaniment to the opening sequence, were not used more frequently. Lucie Crawford's brilliant choreography was also underused.

Performing in the Rotunda of Old Shire Hall was a brave decision but, for the most part, one which paid off. It was a stunning setting, and the actors dealt well with the potential problems posed by being surrounded by the audience, turning and moving about frequently enough that no-one felt that they were missing out on any of the action. However, the glare from the lighting was inescapable, there being lights shining from three different directions, and this did make watching the performance uncomfortable at times.

Although Satin is not shy in its use of filthy language or shocking themes, it stops short of showing the dirty deeds themselves, which take place offstage and are only alluded to by the cast. However, this method of telling rather than showing only increases the audience's participation, allowing them to a large extent to come to their own conclusions.

In its programme, Satin promises to be "unlike anything Durham has seen before", and it certainly fulfils that promise. Part play, part burlesque show and part interactive showcasing, it is by turns amusing and chilling, and leaves the audience with as many questions as resolutions.


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