The Killing of Sister George has not aged well at all. Frank Marcus’s play—which he bewilderingly considered not only a comedy but a farce—is a claustrophobic, hothouse portrait of lesbian life that, for all its avoidance of explicitness, serves up its goods with the kind of steamy, isn’t-it-shocking? lasciviousness (masquerading as candor) that wouldn’t be out-of-place in a 60s soft-porn sleaze novel. Maybe that kind of perspective seemed funnier in 1964 (though I sure don’t remember it that way; yes, I was around); but given the main character—an alcoholic bull-dyke actress (Caitlin O’Connell, doing well with the archetype) whose “district nurse” character is about to be killed off from the BBC soap opera in which she has been long-established—it reeks of desperation and sadness on top on sensationalism. The latter is provided by her younger, live-in girlfriend who, for reasons I perhaps need not particularize, is nicknamed “Childie” (Margot White, directed to take infantilism to extremes and add a nonessential Scottish burr, I assume because the text identifies her character as a native Glaswegian)—who finds a rival for her attentions in the older BBC exec (Cynthia Harris, decades too old for the role) who visits their home to deliver the bad news about “Sister George.”
It helps no one that Drew Barr has chosen to direct the play in a manner that defies style—not fully camp, not quite naturalism, suggesting the gamut and realizing none. But in one regard, he's not to be blamed: this kind of play requires not just style, but a script with enough wit to make the needed style inevitably clear. (The template of the play is familiar in British drama: Portrait of a self-destructive charismatic, his/her potential for salvation overshadowed by his/her excesses, who is, in the end abandoned by those who finally refuse to go down with the ship. Think Butley.)
There’s more to particularize about the wrong-headedness of the enterprise, but not to anyone’s benefit nor your increased edification: you have the gist. Let’s leave Sister George as the pop culture footnote it ought to hereafter remain. And will, if we’re lucky.
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