February 2, 1998: Townsend, Terms of Abuse

Hampstead Theatre

A first play for the theatre by a writer with some television experience. Some promise here, mostly in a very well realized central character, extremely well played by Susan Sylvester: Mandy, a woman who has miraculously survived a rape by a man who turns out to be a serial killer. Her greedy brother sells her story to a sleazy tabloid for a cut of the money, but Mandy soon finds she will have to re-live the experience by testifying about it in court. A point of some interest is the flash-back-plus effect achieved by having Mandy’s younger self played by a separate actress, Emma Bird; they eventually meet — and party together. The lines between fantasy and realism are blurred here, but not productively. The two parts of the play — before and after intermission — are ungainly and imbalanced. There is of course the requisite male nudity — Mandy’s teenage son takes a bath, for no perceivable dramatic reason. And the actor playing the reporter for the sleazy tabloid who tries to get it on — and succeeds — with Mandy is miscast and poorly directed.

What, finally, is the play about? The title, Terms of Abuse, has a potential richness that ultimately just turns out to be vague. But Susan Sylvester has presence and talent and is worth seeing in a role that draws out at least some of the self-destructive pathos and complex reaching for pleasure and love that keeps this character from being merely another abused young woman on whom tabloid journalism notoriously and routinely feeds.


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An American Playgoer in London by Joseph Donohue is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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