A HAMPSTEAD THEATRE PRODUCTION
Rapture, Blister, Burn
By GINA GIONFRIDDO
Directed by PETER DUBOIS
Running time: 2 hours and 20 minutes including a 20 minute interval
£15 - £32 (See ticket information)
The generations change. But the choices remain the same
16 Jan - 22 Feb 2014
£15 - £32
Box Office: 020 7722 9301
Can any woman have it all? After university Catherine and Gwen chose opposite paths: Catherine built a career as a rock-star academic, while Gwen built a home with a husband and children. Decades later, unfulfilled in opposite ways, each woman covets the other’s life, and a dangerous game begins as each tries to claim the other’s territory.
Gina Gionfriddo dissects modern gender politics in this breathtakingly witty and virtuosic comedy. Her other plays include the critically acclaimed Becky Shaw (Almeida Theatre) and After Ashley (Vineyard Theatre). The Susan Smith Blackburn Prize winner has also written extensively for television including the popular dramas Law & Order and House of Cards starring Kevin Spacey.
Peter DuBois reunites with Gina following Becky Shaw. His other directing credits includeAll New People (West End). Peter is in his fourth season as the Artistic Director of the Huntington Theatre Company in Boston. His productions have been on the annual top ten lists of The New York Times, Time Out, Variety and The Evening Standard.
Emilia Fox makes her Hampstead Theatre debut. Theatre credits include Coriolanus,Richard II (both Almeida) and Good (Donmar Warehouse). TV credits include Silent Witness and Merlin, and the Oscar-nominated film The Pianist.
Emma Fielding‘s recent theatre credits include In the Republic of Happiness (Royal Court), Headlong’s Decade (West End) and The King’s Speech (West End). Film and TV includes Cranford and The Scarlet Tunic.
★★★★ The Times
★★★★ Evening Standard
★★★★ Time Out
The American dramatist Gina Gionfriddo first came to the attention of British audiences in 2011 with her play Becky Shaw, a sharply observant piece that put one in mind of a latter-day Jane Austen with its wit, irony and the way the dramatist explored relationships as a touchstone of morality. Now she is back with another sparky comedy, which combines intelligence with winning humour and palpable humanity.
This is one of those plays when you can sense the audience’s involvement. At one twist in the narrative the woman sitting next to me let out a loud “What?!” of surprise that put the whole house on a roar.
Peter Dubois directs an absorbing production and there are top-notch performances from the entire cast.
Emilia Fox is sexy, sharp and touching as the academic hot-shot who yearns for a loving relationship; Emma Fielding is excellent as the unhappy obsessive wife, and Adam James gives a delightfully rueful performance as her slacker of a husband. There’s strong support too from Shannon Tarbet as the babysitter, a funky young woman with a bright spark about her; and Polly Adams brings great warmth to the play as the wise old mum who makes a mean martini.
It’s a highly intelligent play, but beyond the witty debate it is the wise humanity of the piece that impresses most.
Charles Spencer, 23 January, 2014
Years ago, when they were postgrads, Don was Catherine’s boyfriend. Then she headed off on a careerist stint abroad and returned to find her former roommate, Gwen, marrying him. Now they’re all in their forties and the tables are being turned in Gina Gionfriddo’sAmerican domestic drama which — contriving to be both clever and funny — could well transfer from Hampstead to the West End.
Rapture, Blister, Burn deals with midlife crises and the shifting sands of gender politics. After more than a decade incommunicado, Catherine has reestablished contact and been invited round for drinks. Played by svelte Emilia Fox with a stateside accent, Catherine has become a hot academic and TV pundit, in chic leather jacket and killer heels. Her books on pornography and the corruption of feminism have got her “the sexy scholar gig”, as Adam James’s Don teasingly puts it.
Yet she is starting to think she should have settled down with an adoring husband and had kids, like Gwen. Meanwhile, equally dissatisfied, Emma Fielding’s rather starchy Gwen has got half a mind to dump Don on Catherine, if she wants him, because he has lost his mojo, dwindling into becoming a provincial college dean partial to booze and blue movies.
Peter DuBois (previously acclaimed for his staging of Gionfriddo’s Becky Shaw at the Almeida) directs a brilliantly fluid production with clapboard backyards and lamp-lit lounges sliding and spinning into view (designed by* Jonathan Fensom*).
Shannon Tarbet is outstanding as Avery, conveying the mouthy cocksureness of youth and a surprising protectiveness (far less caricatured than the post-feminist teen in April de Angelis’s recent, generational seriocomedy Jumpy). Moreover, James is wonderfully droll and makes Don a most compelling, three-dimensional character, downplaying his dissipation in favour of rising frustration and desire.
Kate Bassett, 24 January, 2014
In the week Nigel Farage told a conference that mums who take time off to raise their children are ‘worth less’ as employees, Hampstead Theatre has staged a play about whether women have to choose between family and a successful career.
It’s an old dilemma, and one that many of us would hope had been put to rest with numerous mothers now heading up FTSE 250 companies.
But as Farage’s idiotic comments show, it’s a debate that keeps being resurrected. Luckily, the wonderful cast give it dynamism where the script gets a bit heavy. Writer Gina Gionfriddo even offers us a brief history of feminism through Cathy’s lectures, a media-savvy academic played by Emilia Fox.
In a coup for the theatre, this is Fox’s first play in ten years. She sparkles, portraying a sexy, ambitious woman in her early forties. But she covets the life of sweet, seemingly unthreatening Gwen (Emma Fielding) her college buddy and the woman who stole her university boyfriend, married him and became a stay-at-home mum. And conveniently, Gwen’s got itchy feet too.
Avery, 21, Gwen’s smart-talking babysitter and Cathy’s precocious student (Shannon Tarbet) delivers the best sassy one-liners, drolly summing up what might be the premise of the play while flicking her iPad: “Women are fucked either way. Do you have a family and wind up lonely and sad? or have a career and wind up lonely and sad?”
Cathy’s mother Alice (played with a compelling blend of female cunning and tenderness by Polly Adams) encourages Cathy to embark on an affair with Gwen’s husband Don, giving us a neat summary of all generations’ reactions to the debate. Adam Jamesportrays Don as a charming man, hugely committed to his life of mediocrity, directed with wit and superb comic timing by Peter Dubois.
Ultimately, Gwen and Cathy are stuck with their choices; family or career, not both. Neither of them is terribly miserable but neither is completely content either.
Emily Jupp, 24 January, 2014
“Women are f***ed either way: they have a career and wind up lonely and sad, or have a family and wind up lonely and sad.”
Yes, Rapture, Blister, Burn, the latest delight from that feisty American provocateur Gina Gionfriddo, whose Becky Shaw stirred audiences at the Almeida in 2011, is going to stimulate some heated, Oleanna-style debate about modern feminism. Indeed, one audience member on opening night got so vexed at a certain character’s decision that she howled in outrage, thus stopping the show for a good minute.
We’ve just about come to the resigned conclusion that women can’t have it all, but Gionfriddo’s concern is how much of “it” we can reasonably expect. Might we, deep down, not really want the things we say we do?
Gionfriddo cannily cranks the drama up a couple of gears and Peter Dubois’s sure-footed production has us gripped as our sympathies slide and shift.
There’s impressive acting all round from the five-strong cast. Confident central turns fromFielding and Fox are bolstered by strong support from Shannon Tarbet as a preternaturally wise 21-year-old student full of the absolute certainty of youth and Adam James as the lone male, idling his life away while the women fret.
Fiona Mountford, 23 January, 2014
Gwen (Emma Fielding) is a stay-at-home mum. Things aren’t always easy – she’s had to give up drinking and her slacker college dean husband has a porn addiction – but she is satisfied with the compromises she’s made to keep her family together.
However, when her former roommate, childless academic star Catherine (Emilia Fox), comes calling, her desire for change gets the better of her, and the two women decide to make a trade.
There’s plenty of mischievous wit in Gina Gionfriddo’s seductively ambivalent play about the intellectual contortions of contemporary feminism, as once incendiary conflicting theories are debated with supreme mutual tolerance by three generations of women.
Peter DuBois’s smart staging boasts finely calibrated performances. As empowered ‘raunch feminist’ Avery and Catherine’s Martini-guzzling mother Alice, Shannon Tarbetand Polly Adams add the perspectives of youth and age.
, 27 January, 2014
To boil a potentially meaningful argument into banality: modern feminist theatre can be pretty cool. By which I mean, a lot of its makers take the stance that if you’re going to bung a load of theory and intellectual exposition into your work, then you probably want to use a hipper, more provocative medium than a couple of characters talking for two hours.
I really liked it: Rapture, Blister, Burn has no sense of self-importance, but is a witty, unsentimental piece that sacrifices a certain polish in order to fully articulate tricksy questions about how one should live one’s life in these enlightened times.
In amongst the talking, a plot of sorts kicks in, when Catherine and Gwen decide to swap lives: in the resultant farrago, Gionfriddo quite reasonably seems to argue that total happiness is a preposterous idea – and that that’s okay.
Powered by some great performances: – Fox is kind, charismatic and subtly fragile,Tarbet scene-stealingly bratty, Adam James heartbreakingly shlubbish as Gwen’s husband Don – and Peter DuBois’s relaxed direction, Rapture, Blister, Burn gains in momentum but never tries to make a crisis out of a domestic drama.
Instead Gionfriddo simply trusts that her play will hold our interest through the batting around of awkward questions – and she’s right.
Andrzej Lukowski, 23 January, 2014
It was the biggest involuntary explosion of disbelief I’ve ever heard in a theatre: on the first night of Gina Gionfriddo’s satirical feminist play, a husband tells his estranged wife, whose former room-mate and best friend he’s been living with, that he wants to come home.
“What?!” exclaimed a lone female voice in the stalls, and it stopped the show. If I learn that she was a plant, or a friend of the production team, I’ll be very annoyed (and surprised); this was, I think, an authentic expression of shock and condemnation.
And it showed how very well the American playwright Gina Gionfriddo had wound up her dramatic debate on the politics of pornography and the intellectual history of feminism in the complex, shifting lives of her characters.
The husband in question is Don Harper (Adam James), an academic on a New England college campus who’s settled for a life of ease as a disciplinary dean. He and his wife, Gwen (Emma Fielding), are welcoming Gwen’s oldest friend, Catherine Croll (Emilia Fox), into their back yard after an interval of twelve years.
In that time, Don and Gwen have had two children and Catherine – a lipstick feminist in tight pants and killer stilettos – has written books with long titles about the cultural history of sex and women’s rights; she’s staying in town with her mother, Alice Croll (Polly Adams, whose accent is pure Home Counties with a tinge of posh Boston), and giving some classes.
There are two unlikely plot twists, soon forgotten when things start hotting up: first, Gwen is taking the classes in her mother’s apartment; second, the first (and only) two signatories for sessions on the relationship between Vietnam, 9/11 and the consequent glut of horror and slasher movies, are Gwen… and the babysitter.
That babysitter, 21 year-old Avery Willard, is the clear voice of frankly expressed home truths in matters of sexual politics that are stitched and starched into the lives of her seniors. And she’s blisteringly well played by Shannon Tarbet, cutting through the middle-aged breast-beating like a knife through butter.
But she’s in trouble, too, as she has a black eye at the start of the play and her boyfriend is teaming up with a Mormon girl. Don, meanwhile, continues drinking and watching porn, while Gwen and Catherine, having name-checked the iconic disputants in American feminist arguments over the exact nature of liberation, Phyllis Schlafly and Betty Friedan, jostle for supremacy.
The production by Gionfriddo’s regular director Peter DuBois – the two of them collaborated here on the sulphurously funny Becky Shaw at the Almeida exactly three years ago – soon settles into a proper rhythm, and the performances find support in the springy, barbed dialogue of their exchanges.
Not the least of the play’s achievements is to make these arid and over-familiar concepts of feminism come alive in a dramatic construct of character and emotional crisis. It’s a fine comedy, very well designed by Jonathan Fensom, and a gripping one, as the audience response, both isolated and collective, made abundantly clear on opening night.
Michael Coveney, 23 January, 2014
Relive Rapture, Blister, Burn, from Iggy Pop and PJ Harvey to Arcade Fire and Stevie Nicks, with our Spotify Soundtrack.
Rapture, Blister, Burn reviewMetro
Rapture, Blister, Burn, theatre review: ‘Emilia Fox sparkles as sexy fortysomething’ By Emily Jupp, Independent
Rapture, Blister, Burn review By Kate Bassett, The Times
Emilia Fox stars in the latest play by American dramatist Gina Gionfriddo – a witty, absorbing look at gender politics today, says Charles Spencer By Charles Spencer, Telegraph
Gina Gionfriddo’s satirical play starring Emilia Fox and Emma Fielding opened at Hampstead Theatre last night By Michael Coveney, WhatsOnStage
Gina Gionfriddo’s sure-footed study of feminism has us gripped as sparks fly in the sisterhood By Fiona Mountford, Evening Standard
Rapture, Blister, Burn Review By Andrzej Lukowski, Time Out
Interview with Peter DuBois, director of Rapture, Blister, Burn: A unique perspective on working with acclaimed playwright, Gina Gionfriddo
Having finally said goodbye to the extraordinary sell-out success that was Howard Brenton’s Drawing the Line, I am happy to start the New Year at Hampstead with another wonderful new play by a brilliant writer.
Get an exclusive insight into the Rapture, Blister, Burn publicity shoot with our behind-the-scenes photo gallery of Emma Fielding and Emilia Fox.
Polly Adams, Emma Fielding, Adam James and Shannon Tarbet join Emilia Fox in Rapture, Blister, Burn, Gina Gionfriddo’s witty dissection of gender politics.
Tuesday – Saturday evenings
Full price: £32/£29
Groups: For every 9 tickets get the 10th free
Monday, matinees and Previews
Full price: £25/£22
Seniors (matinees only): £18/£15
Groups: For every 9 tickets get the 10th free
*Under 26, Jobs Seekers allowance and Student concession seats will be allocated in the front row of the stalls and back row of the circle (indicated by pink seats with an ‘i’)
Pre-show discussion in association with Harper’s Bazaar: ‘Can women have it all?’
5 February at 6pm – For ticket holders only
Audio described performance:
15 February at 3pm, with a touch-tour at 1.30pm
18 February at 7.30pm, with a transcribed post show discussion