Paradise Now! review – sharp satire of girlboss extremes

Bush theatre, London
Smartly directed and superbly acted, Margaret Perry’s funny and moving play follows a group of women working for an essential oils franchise

Let’s start with the scene changes. In Jaz Woodcock-Stewart’s inspired production of Margaret Perry’s probing play, these shifts have attitude, go off-kilter and involve high-energy chart music and intoxicating dance routines. They’re like little works of art in themselves.

Then there are the silences. Here is a play where pauses grind with awkwardness, hum with hysteria and hold an almost unbearable sadness: watch as Baby (Carmel Winters) sinks into a bath. When she emerges, other women help her dress. One scene change finds all six actors on their hands and knees, clearing things up together.

These acts of sisterly harmony are hard earned in Perry’s play which satirises hear-me-roar girlboss culture, the #selfcare luxury industry and social media’s curation and commodification of artful authenticity and vulnerability. But it does so while caring for the characters, each portrayed with a startlingly different energy by a superb cast.

Paradise Now! features movement direction by Sung Im Her and design by Rosie Elnile.
Paradise Now! features movement direction by Sung Im Her and design by Rosie Elnile. Photograph: Helen Murray

Baby lives with her sister, the similarly weary Gabriel (Michele Moran), and their hermetic bond has a hint of Enda Walsh’s families. When Gabriel meets the younger, dynamic Alex (Shazia Nicholls) and joins her franchise of essential oils saleswomen, she is re-energised but her success lays bare each team member’s ambitions in a system that pits them against each other. Soon, even loved-up couple Anthie and Carla (Annabel Baldwin and Ayoola Smart) are cracking under the weight of expectation.

Panic and despair fill the air like the bergamot and lily from the diffusers flogged by Alex but Perry’s sensuous drama also shows us taut lives loosening: such as when Rakhee Thakrar, as Laurie, douses herself with oils at a house party and melts into a chair. Sung Im Her’s movement direction is consistently sharp, whether of a bowling night or the building of a human pyramid. Some tableaux, such as Carla posing with her halo light or Gabriel eating grapes by a font in an upscale hotel suite (part of a clever design by Rosie Elnile), playfully tease out their spiritual crises.

Although darkly comical, the play is often moving in its assessment of the characters’ lacerating degree of self-efficacy. Occasionally it slips into telling not showing, and overstating its closely bound themes, but this is an arresting assessment of feminism in the social media age and the pernicious effects of life’s snake oil sellers.


Chris Wiegand

The GuardianTramp

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