Reviewed by John Daly-Peoples
Two Ladies by Nancy Harris
Auckland Theatre Company
Auckland Waterfront Theatre
Until February 27
With much speculation about the future of Melania Trump, Nancy Harris’ play “Two Ladies” is pertinent. Just what do the. first ladies think about their roles, are they the power behind the throne or merely appendages to the president to indicate power.
The play imagines a private encounter between the two first ladies of France and the United States. The setting is a summit meeting between the two presidents with The United States having suffered a terrorist attack which has killed thousands. America is about to launch a retaliatory attack and it is up to the French president to restrain him. The men never appear, but their presence looms large off stage and the implications of their decisions is debated by the wives.
The women also keep revealing aspects of their personal lives which brings them to a greater understanding of each other. Their discussion on personal integrity and honesty provides a contrast to what is happening in the high level discussions of the men.
The French president’s wife Helene is English but there are similarities to Bridget Macron. An older woman who left her husband to marry one of her students and who guides him through the political world to eventually become president. But her status as First Lady is now compromised by the fact that the president has had an affair with a Minister in his government. Jennifer Ward Lealand manages to display some of the determination that would come with the role as well as the moral indignation she feels over husbands’ indiscretions and decisions. Her cool sangfroid keeps being shattered by moments of panic.
Sophie (Anna Julienne) is the presidents trophy wife and like Melania she is a glamourous model from Eastern Europe. Initially appearing to have many of the same vacuous qualities as Melania she slowly reveals a disturbing history, unsettling opinions and a dangerous handbag.
The play is hugely entertaining with some sharp observations, witty sparring and painful revelations but there are also some dull patches, purposeless pregnant pauses and an unsatisfying surreal ending.
The three minor players add further touches of comedy. Rena Owen plays a ferocious Press Secretary to Sophia, Adam Gardiner the quintessential haughty French Press Secretary and Ban Abdul is an animated maid.