REVIEW | ES AND FLO AT KILN THEATRE
"Es and Flo" is an emotionally poignant play that expertly explores the devastating effects of dementia and the enduring power of lesbian love. The audience witnesses Es and Flo's 40-year-long hidden relationship, born out of their meeting at Greenham Peace Camp in the 1980s. Their home, their lives, and their shared identity have become inseparable, but as Es, now 71, begins to exhibit signs of memory loss, their world starts crumbling. Lunn's play unflinchingly depicts the horrors of memory loss while delving into the profound and enduring bond between Es and Flo.
One of the play's strengths lies in its exploration of Es's shame about her sexuality and her simultaneous deep love for Flo. As a retired headteacher, Es had to fear losing her career due to oppressive laws like Section 28, forcing her to hide her relationship with Flo. The absence of public acknowledgement of their love becomes a source of tension, particularly when an unknowing carer, paid for by Es's son Peter, threatens their sanctuary. The play beautifully balances Es's inner conflict with her unwavering affection for Flo, emphasising the importance of acceptance and the fight for genuine recognition.
Susie McKenna's careful direction brings the tragedy of aging and illness to the forefront, skillfully navigating the inevitable sadness and loss that accompany dementia. The set design by Libby Watson, a meticulously crafted slice of their home, immerses the audience in their domestic existence. Overflowing with cherished mementos from their years of affection and shared experiences, their house serves as a poignant reminder of everything they stand to lose as Es's mind deteriorates.
Photography: Kirsten McTernan
Liz Crowther and Doreene Blackstock deliver compelling performances as Es and Flo, their chemistry evident as they stand together through four decades of shared experiences. From the chaotic protests at Greenham Common to the haven of their lovingly shaped home, their journey is heartbreakingly portrayed. As Es's dementia progresses, the unraveling of their carefully constructed life becomes palpable, and Flo's struggle to accept help showcases the complexities of navigating this difficult situation. Yet despite the heavy subject matter, the characters' charm, humor, and unwavering dedication to one another shine through, infusing the play with moments of genuine joy and affection. The inclusion of care worker Beata, portrayed with unfailing generosity by Adrianna Pavlovska, adds a touch of rose-tinted optimism, becoming a part of Es and Flo's found family.
While the ending may tie things up a bit too neatly -- dementia is a condition that often lacks resolution, and the tidiness of the ending may feel somewhat contrived -- the play's core strength lies in its ability to shed light on the cruel loneliness of the illness and the power of unwavering care. Es and Flo is a tender and heartfelt portrait of a woman devotedly caring for her love, navigating the challenges of sickness and health with unwavering dedication.
The captivating "Es and Flo" will be running from June 14th to June 24th, 2023, at Kiln Theatre, NW6 7JR.