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Tension perfectly measured in play about mental illness that deserves to be seen

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Women Laughing, written for radio in 1989 by the late Michael Wall and now running at the Old Red Lion, has a simple premise.

Told in two acts, it features two couples and chronicles the descent into mental illness.

The period is late-1980s Thatcherite Britain – a country in thrall to financial prosperity and betterment, but also in panic over AIDS and the uncertainties of the era.

The two men, unbeknownst to either of them initially, as they sit in the garden over a refreshing beer, share the ignominy of attending psychotherapy.

As this shared background comes to light, an ominous and confrontational air hangs over proceedings. The second act will find them in a very different garden.

The tension is perfectly measured and the play crackles with a nervous, edgy atmosphere. Even with the dated backdrop, the story itself is timeless, displaying both a dark comedic heart and a subtle profundity.

All four members of the cast are fantastic, imbuing their characters with emotional depth and complexity.

Occasionally some of the vocal ticks make for uncomfortable watching, but maybe that’s the point. In any event, such a complaint does not detract from the play’s overall power.

The script is pin sharp and the performances have an offbeat charm that is strikingly effective.

This is for those who like their humour bleak but their stories with a compassionate heart. It is a wonderful production and deserves to be seen.

* Women Laughing is at the Old Red Lion Theatre in St John Street, EC1, until October 27

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