Reviews West End & Central Published 10 October 2011

The Killing of Sister George

5th - 29th October 2011

Revival of Frank Marcus’s Sapphic comedy-drama.

Lucy Popescu

The Archers goes Sapphic. Photo: Donald Cooper

The Killing of Sister George first opened in 1964 in London’s West End, starring Susannah York and Beryl Reid. Originally billed as a comedy, its Sapphic subject matter inevitably caused a stir though playwright Frank Marcus always maintained that the fact that the characters are lesbians was not the point. It was subsequently made into a film by Robert Aldrich in 1968. Apparently, an explicit scene of lesbian lovemaking resulted in the film receiving an X rating and several cinemas refused to screen it.

A West End stage revival in 1995 received rave reviews and director Iqbal Khan is evidently hoping for similar success with his production, starring Meera Syal and Helen Lederer.

For six years, June Buckridge (Syal) has played Sister George in a popular BBC radio soap, Applehurst. One of the main characters in the soap, George is a cheerful district nurse whom everyone loves. In real life, though, June is a self-absorbed alcoholic who taunts and humiliates her infantile flatmate-lover, Childie (Elizabeth Cadwallader). When BBC executive Mercy Croft (Belinda Lang) arrives with the news that George is to be killed off, June finds her life turned upside down and her relationship with Childie starts to unravel.

Described as “a chronicle of an English village”, Applehurst’s similarities with The Archers are obvious. At the time of its first production, the killing off of George was considered a parody of the killing of Grace Archer, but for a contemporary audience, Nigel’s recent exit will carry more resonance.

Unfortunately, in choosing to play for laughs rather than focusing on the play’s more serious undertones, including oppression and domestic abuse, Khan’s production feels flat and dated.

He’s not helped by Marcus’s characterisation. Childie’s ditzy demeanour and obsession with dolls feels contrived and Marcus’s depiction of June as a butch, cigar-smoking, abusive dyke comes across as homophobic cliché.

It’s no easy task for the actors – the clunky plot requires a lightness of touch that is sadly lacking in Khan’s production. It’s a shame because Syal and Lederer are usually impressive performers. Lederer’s over the top performance as the zany clairvoyant neighbour, Madam Xenia, will raise a few laughs but not enough to sustain the play’s 135-minute duration. The long hiatus between scenes, to allow for costume changes, does not help matters.

In the 1960s, The Killing of Sister George may have been considered edgy, ground-breaking drama, but Khan’s lacklustre production feels too much like old-fashioned farce, with only hints of the play’s darker side.


Lucy Popescu

Lucy originally trained and worked as an actress. She reviews books, theatre and film and contributes to various publications including the Independent, Sunday Independent, Guardian blog, Words without Borders and Tribune Magazine. Her book about human rights and ethical travel, The Good Tourist, was published by Arcadia Books in late 2008. This will be reissued as a series of E-books in 2012. She is an artistic assessor for Arts Council England, a Trustee of the JMK Award for theatre directors and a writing mentor for the Write to Life Programme at Freedom from Torture.

The Killing of Sister George Show Info

Directed by Iqbal Khan

Written by Frank Marcus




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