Much like Charlotte Keatley’s ‘My Mother Said I Never Should’, 15 Degrees’ new play explores the story of three generations of women from the same family. Starting with memories from Early 1900s Russia until the present day (or the late ’80s), we see the women explore their own lives and possibilities, whilst also wondering whether their fate will be the same as their own mother.
Written collectively by Brandon Force, Nicola Palomba, and Audrey Theayer, the play begins in the memories of elderly Ava, who lives in a British care home, waiting for an unknown visitor. She tells her carer about her youth in early 1900s Russia, and how her and her sister were forced to work in a Gulag labour camp, doing the laundry. Anina becomes pregnant after an affair with a camp guard, and kills herself in order to (in her opinion) keep her daughter and Ava safe. The play continues the story of the family, who for generations are women wanting to explore more, fearing they are to be the same as their mother, and in fatal ways ending up so. Secrets are exposed, ties are strained, and the want to escape increases.
Much like Alice Birch’s Anatomy of a Suicide, the play explores themes of whether the act of suicide is something which is passed down through generations. However, whilst Birch’s play keeps the three generations distinct and separate, The Laundry forces conversations between the women through imagination/spirituality. There’s something rather nice about the imagined conversations some of the mother-daughters have, a sweet reminder of what could be.
The Laundry stretches far and wide in it’s locations for such a short play. We are whisked from Russia to the UK and to Panama, all via Ava’s memories and general viewpoint. With a timeline stretching around 80 years, that’s a lot to pack in a 75 minute production. Sometimes, pertinent moments in storylines are missed, or aren’t explained enough. For instance, I’d have liked more time to be dedicated to Ava and Anna’s relationship, due to it being not a conventional mother-daughter one. However, there are moments of storytelling which, directed by Tracy Collier, are superb: using a line of shoes at the front of the stage to symbolise timelines and generations is smart, and the trio of women giving a tutorial on how to hand-wash laundry had a powerful rhythm which I wish had been sustained throughout the performance.
With standout performances from Fiona Watson as Ava and Verity Williams as Hannah, The Laundry explores important and heartfelt themes, though perhaps aims to do too much in a limited space.