Robert Tanitch reviews Two Ladies at Bridge Theatre, London SE1
Many years ago, back in the early 1980s, there was a play by Robert David Macdonald called Summit Conference which had a fictional meeting between the mistresses of Hitler and Mussolini, Eva Braun and Clara Petacci. It was cartoon kitsch.
Nancy Harris’ Two Ladies, lasting 90 minutes and directed by Nicholas Hytner, is more serious; but it moves to a highly improbable climax and into another genre completely.
Harris imagines a meeting between the wives of the Presidents of the USA and France. Their husbands are attending a summit conference in France to decide whether or not to retaliate in kind as an answer for a terrorist attack on 5 USA cities and the deaths of a large number of people.
For security reasons the First Ladies have to remain inside a locked room. Though they are not meant to be the real Melanie Trump and Brigitte Macron, Harris, nevertheless, draws on lots of well-known facts about them to flesh out her characters.
The American First Lady (Zrinka Cvitešić) has a dramatic first entrance. Her smart all-white dress is covered in animal blood which had been thrown at her by angry demonstrators outside the building protesting against war.
A Croatian by birth and a former model, she is the President’s trophy wife. The only time he ever holds her hand, she says, is in public. She carries poison in her handbag in a perfume bottle for emergencies. So who is going to poison who?
The French First Lady (Zoë Wanamaker) was formerly a teacher and she seduced the President when he was a 17-year old schoolboy. They had an affair and married. Later she became a journalist and wrote his political speeches for him. She won him his election and she wants him to stand up to the Americans and not to go to war.
The play is a power struggle between men and women. The two ladies are tired of being shut out and having to remain on the sidelines, ignored and humiliated. Can they stop war? They could, of course, take a tip from Lysistrata, who famously found a way to end the Peloponnesian War.