One of the highlights of our visit to London was a most ambitious production at the White Bear, a tiny pub theatre in South London. It was Women of Twilight, Sylvia Rayman’s all-women play from 1951, powerfully performed by a profit-share company of eleven, appropriately called 11F.
Unmarried women who find themselves pregnant are driven by desperation to take lodging in a house that is a front for a baby-farming operation. The characters in the play are from all levels of society and varied backgrounds. The sensitivity and depth of understanding that Sylvia Rayman brings to these women is what makes this script so remarkable, and even more so given that this was her first play, written when she was 28, working as a waitress. Although two of the women, one middle-class, the other the girlfriend of a gangster sentenced to hang, are the focus of the action, all the women are fully and vividly realized. And this accomplished ensemble company does full justice to the work.
Women of Twilight was a sudden surprise hit in 1951, receiving many productions all over Britain, followed by a film in 1952. Somehow, after that, it dropped into obscurity. The director of this production, Jonathan Rigby, became interested in the film, and then undertook to track down the original playscript. This production, once again, has had an unexpected impact, receiving glowing reviews for a run at the White Bear in October 2013, sparking a revival in January 2014.
“Sluts, all of you, with your rotten little bastards. I took you off the streets, when decent people wouldn’t look at you … And this is how you repay me!”
From the White Bear publicity: “Anticipating British theatre’s ‘kitchen sink’ revolution by a full five years, Women of Twilight was first presented in 1951 and filmed the following year. Neglected for over half a century yet still relevant today, this blistering drama – in which unmarried mothers are ruthlessly exploited by an unscrupulous, baby-farming landlady – is a real find.
Women of Twilight is directed by Jonathan Rigby and designed by Olivia Knight. It forms part of the White Bear’s Lost Classics strand, which has previously unearthed John Osborne’s early plays The Devil Inside Him and Personal Enemy (which transferred to the ‘Brits Off Broadway’ festival in New York).
With Claire Louise Amias, Francesca Anderson, Christie Banks, Amy Comper, Elizabeth Donnelly, Ailsa Ilott, Sally Mortemore, Emma Reade-Davies, Maggie Robson, Vanessa Russell, Emma Spearing.”