Who is the Painted Lady?
Is it the woman who is strewn across the stage the minute we arrive into the auditorium?
Thirty minutes before the play even starts, she is lying, face down, her short dress exposing her bare legs. A pair of high heels tossed to one side hints at a night of drunken chaos.
But this isn’t some stranger’s bed she has woken up on, she is lying in a field, in the midst of thorny thistles.
She awakes from her stupor, confused and wondering how she got there. Her head is thumping. She scrambles around in a panic looking for her bag, her phone, her purse – are they there?
With relief, she realises she does still have them – but not before she clutches her stomach and heaves, throwing up into the grass.
This is the subject that is tackled with such honesty in this play – the subject of alcoholism and addiction.
Kimberley not only has the dreaded hungover and no idea where she is, but has awoken to the face of a none-too-happy Dan who wants her off his private property.
I’m imagining that this is going to be some sort of romantic connection, but actually it goes a lot deeper than that. Dan, a self-confessed hermit and the hungover chaotic Kimberley seem to have been placed in each other’s paths for a reason.
What unravels throughout this 90 minute play (which seemed to zip by in no time) is the gradual disclosure of each other’s secrets. Each of them have buried hurts; each of them have hidden fears and slowly they begin to realise they have more in common than once thought.
But a tension and conflict keeps the play moving as these strangers are able to confront each other in ways that perhaps a family member couldn’t. He challenges her abusive relationship and she challenges his festering self-pity.
Whilst the subject matter could seem heavy and a drudge, this play is anything but. It is scattered with plenty of humour along the way, which had the audience laughing aloud.
The painted lady – which is actually a reference to a butterfly, was captured so beautifully in a scene that used lights and visual imagery to capture a magical feeling.
There were moments of poetic lyrical language, and there were also moments of heartfelt emotion. When Dan described, in a raised voice, of his struggle with the alcohol, it felt like he was really talking from the heart.
The final scene left a tear in my eye as I realised that these two lost souls, who had crossed each other paths for whatever reason – synchronicity or a guardian angel – were finally opening up to each other in a way that could lead to healing and contentment.
“The Painted Lady” was written by Rob Hollway, performed by Rob Hollway & Debra Hill and directed by Rachel Coffey. It was performed in Accidental Theatre, Belfast on 4, 5 & 6 April 2019.