The Other Line

SOPHIE WILLIAMS applauds this fantastic play

ADC Cambridge Theatre ellen robertson Hellie Cranney student writing The Other Line women Women writing

ADC Theatre, 7.45pm, Tue 18th February, £10/£8

With The Other Line, writers Hellie Cranney and Ellen Robertson have done something incredible. Not only is this play important historically and politically – it is one of only seven plays written by women to have been staged on the ADC stage in the last eleven years – but it is also a fantastic play: script-wise, acting-wise, production-wise.

It would be patronising to harp on about how positive this play is for women, both for the real women behind it and the characters themselves. A claim like this would just detract and distract from just how impressively entertaining and touching (varying from scene to scene, sometimes from sentence to sentence) this play really is. As the final curtain fell and the actors took their bow, I have rarely clapped and cheered louder in a theatre.

Once I’d finished clapping and cheering, I turned to the person next to me and asked, “How on earth did they find the time to write that?” While I am always astonished when Cambridge students manage to not only start to write a play (Lord knows I have tried) during university but actually finish it, and to ‘finish it’ to the degree that Cranney and Robertson have is an achievement. They have created a play full of characters that I felt I knew inside-out by the end of the show, littered with jokes and pathos in equal measure and I couldn’t help but admire everything they have done here. Bravo.

An excellent and groundbreaking example of student theatre

An excellent and groundbreaking example of student theatre

Since I’m getting a bit gushy about it all, here are the (emotionless) basics. The play is set in what seems to be our very own contemporary Britain. Four women – Kate (Hellie Cranney), Madeleine a.k.a. “Mads” (Mary Galloway), Tash (Laura Jayne Ayres) and Claire (Sarah Livingstone) – are brought together by family ties and long-standing relationships for a girls’ night in, but it slowly transpires that the world in which they live is not quite ours: the government has decided to put restrictions in place that dictate who can and cannot have children.

I won’t go into any more detail because part of the beauty of the play is the audience’s slow realisation of just how this judgement – completely normalised for the characters – affects the lives of these women in manifold ways. Since these government restrictions based on class, sexuality and age does not seem all that far-fetched,it all  feels highly relevant to our own supposedly non-dystopian world. But this narrative thread does not dominate the play, and indeed much of the play’s comedy and drama arises from a completely quotidian, familiar place: the annoying-but-sweet Mads getting incredibly drunk; Claire and Tash’s relationship banter; Jamie Fraser’s dim-sum delivery boy spending a wonderfully inordinate amount of time onstage waiting for the door to be answered. Further to this, the remarkable set and its several fantastic huge windows make you feel like you really are in your best friends’ living room.

All of the performances must be highly praised; I cannot single out stronger or weaker actors. I have seen all of them in several other plays and it was such a delight to see them break free from the typecast woman-defined-by-man characters that I have often seen them play. I would say that it is a shame that Cranney and Robertson felt driven by necessity to create their own roles in the form of The Other Line, but I am glad they did. The Other Line is undoubtedly a great achievement that deserves recognition and a bigger audience.