Flesh by Tilly Black

Cast
Alison ...... Samantha Bond
Peter ...... David Calder
Jess ...... Daniela Denby-Ashe
Simon Channing ...... Nathaniel Parker
Wendy ...... Rebecca Smart
Emily ...... Charlotte Ellis

Directed by Sara Davies.
Five parts. Total running time approximately 75 minutes.

Plot
Alison is successful and well-respected journalist who takes on an assignment to write a feature about the cosmetic surgery industry. In the beginning of this play to her that business is a backlash at women’s empowerment. She approaches the whole subject with keen denial and scepticism, but her daughter’s news that she’s about to finally marry at 33 make her realize that she’s getting older. She starts looking in the mirror far too often. What stares back at her doesn’t meet her perception of her still juvenile self. She envies her daughter’s youth, her job as well as her happiness with Richard. Alison fights each and every of Jess’ decisions and successes. 

During an interview with leading cosmetic surgeon Simon Channing she’s all too vulnerable and lets herself being persuaded into a minor cosmetic procedure. The results are enough to make her start questioning a lot about her life. As a woman our heroine is anxious about the inevitable signs of ageing. Yet another surprise announcement by her daughter makes her even more vulnerable as she decides to re-visit Simon - she’s about to become a grandmother. The promise of eternal youth catches as Alison gives in to a major plastic surgery. A big decision, but things go wrong and her husband and daughter are horrified at the change in her.

Alison moves out because she feels that her family doesn’t understand her actions. She also decides to have a PA to do her workouts and even a bit more than that... Her mid-life crisis is in fully swing as she tries to present her newly improved breasts and face (with one or two defects), walking around in high-heel shoes and tightly fitting clothes. Especially her daughter keeps away from her as she can’t bear to observe her own mother making a mere caricature out of herself and her former values and principles. Even as her baby is born, she refuses to let Alison see her girl. Alison’s illusions on her new life become shattered as she attends her daughter’s wedding - gate-crashingly because she wasn’t officially invited. During the wedding party Alison’s chasing after internal youth dissolves into enlightened laughter as she realizes that she’s been acting like a fool. She reconciles with her daughter. Not all’s forgotten, but in the end all will be well and she’s learned her lesson.

Review of Play
What a delight – a cleverly done spoof on ageing, on how the genders seemingly deal differently with it and how a fully stricken midlife-crisis can make formerly happy families go to bits and pieces (now for that matter, men usually act similarly stupid, but using other strategies). Typically as the whole case sounds, it’s the woman who gets caught up in the illusion that she’s ageless and needs to be ever beautiful and radiant with eternal sex appeal while quite contrary her hubby seems detached with his own signs of age.

Why is it that the woman is the one who feels under pressure? Because frankly women are maybe receptive to flattery as well as non-flattery. But fair enough the play also indicates that most men are like that as well, or let’s say, men who have 20-year-old partners while the are well in their mid-fifties. Alison’s own hubby seems to be OK with his age and the signs of ageing and his own marriage that he feels is happy. She instead simply refuses to accept the inevitable and endangers her secure little world as it was. You might want to argue that this running berserk indicates a certain weakness in Alison’s character, but hey let’s face it: It ain’t funny realizing that some opportunities in life simply have passed by and that nothing you can do can bring them back.

Statistics indicate that more women have plastic surgery done than men and there’s no arguing that the beauty industry and those glossy magazines try to sell an image of women that doesn’t exist – but some keep running after it. This the five-part radio play tries to deal with the issue on a more humorous level, but somehow the laughter gets stuck in your throat as you listen to the well-known caress “oh – you’re – not – looking - that – old” talk. Let’s face it – you’ve got the face you deserve when you’re round about 40. Our anti-heroine Alison finally fights her demons. She paid dearly to have followed them, poor wreck. All in all I’d tend to say it’s a play with a message that could have used an ounce more satire. The wonderful thing about it is that you’ve heard it all somewhere before, all those taglines and slogans and Tilly masters to make us think about age, beauty and dignity without getting on our nerves by constantly raising her moral voice.

 

“No matter how you tell yourself
that’s what we all go through.
Those lines are pretty hard to take
when they’re starin' back at you.”
Nick Of Time by Bonnie Riatt

 

Review of Nat’s performance
As you may have guessed, Nat’s Simon Channing isn’t exactly a sympathy figure in this one. He’s the one who in his persuasive style talks Alison into her plastic surgery needs, she never felt she had before. Not quite right, she had them, but no-one ever indicated that she could do something about her wrinkles and fading beauty. He raises her wee small voice of doubt that was always inside her: am I really getting old and therefore unattractive? He’s the prototype of a cosmetic surgeon with an American accent. What comes to mind is a “typical” LA citizen, with an eternally bronze complexion and an eerie ageless face (not to speak of his full and non-grey hair). His sleaziness oozes through every pore. A masterpiece to evoke such imagery through mere voice-work.

We’re not surprised that this man has a girlfriend that’s about 30 years younger than he is. But he’s got no problems with that, he sees it more like a good reason to have had plastic surgery himself. You know, you gotta keep up and stay on top of things. Nat masters this seducer with grandeur, especially his last appearance and final words spoken in snatches as he hurries off make it clear: This doctor doesn’t act in the best interest of his patients, he’s got his bank account in the back of his mind most of the time. A nasty and devilish one, reminds me a tad of Mephisto. One who’s only able to be successful because he finds our very own vulnerabilities and weaknesses: our vanity, our pride, our dependency on our looks and consequently our low self-esteem and his promise of a quick fix to all our problems. A small part, but a revealing one nonetheless. 

Status
This five part dramatisation has been broadcast via BBC Radio Four from Dec 17th to Dec 21st, 2007. It is not issued on CD nor tape.

 

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