Milk and Gall opens with a traumatic birth on the night of Donald Trump’s election. I think, for the first 5 minutes of the play, that this conceit is going to run out in 5 minutes. The trauma of birth and motherhood played out under the liberal panic and pain of the 2016 surprise win. I quickly learn however that Mathilde Dratwa’s debut is a smarter and more supple piece of work than a lot of the one-note ‘Trump plays’ which have sprung up over the past five years.
Milk and Gall is the first play I’ve seen about the Trump era where it feels properly Historical. We are able to reflect on it as milestone, to position election night as an historical landmark from which personal and social repercussions ripple out. It’s even a bit comforting to me, because I remember how horrible it felt at the time. The cries and outbursts of ‘She lost. He won’ feel to me, a little bit removed, or numbed.
Lisa Spirling’s production is light on its feet, skipping through the scenes of the year after the birth of Roddy (for Rodham). It doesn’t work with traditional tensions and climaxes, rather tumbling into lightly worn incidents of absurdism. Alexa comes to life, Hillary Clinton is stabbed then reincarnated, a baby’s feet are literally eaten.
It’s impressive how the production logically and confidently walks into these moments. It follows this dream logic which is fun for the audience and makes the world of the play inhabit different realms of reality in a way that is exciting rather than cringey or self-parodic.
The ensemble cast are by far and away the strength of this production- the casting is absolutely spot on. MyAnna Buring draws us into the character with a combination of charisma and comedy coupled with a physical and emotional exhaustion. The very funny and sweet Matt Whitchurch is a brilliant counterpart as her husband Michael. With the rest of the cast providing spark to every scene they appear in- Sherine Chalhieis a particularly strong comic performance- this cast carries the surreal humour with confidence.
The only point in which this production doesn’t get me on board, is the sense of urgency which coarses through Buring’s character in particular. It feels odd in hindsight, to see on stage the incredulity and the genuine fear which bursts out of her. Because in material terms, she is fine. She has been fine this whole time. If you’re white, middle class and in a blue state, you will have been scared in 2016 but you will be fine. Vera does not have her healthcare taken away, she is not separated from her children. The script does aim to tackle this head on, but the conflict on stage- Vera picking fights with her mother and her Syrian-American best friend- feel a little shallow to me. They feel like scenes included because the issues have to be discussed, but it’s a disservice to have them feel so at odds with the rest of the play. For such a strong company, I’m a little discomfited by these scenes, but ultimately excited to have seen this playful and confident show.
Milk and Gall is on at Theatre 503 till 27th November. More info here.