Theatre Review - The Hills of California

Laura Donnelly in The Hills of California [Mark Douet]

Jez Butterworth’s latest play is set in Blackpool, during the heatwave of 1976. Three sisters reunite in the family guest house. They are here to say goodbye to their mother, Veronica Webb (Laura Donnelly), who is dying upstairs. 

Jill (Helena Wilson) is the pragmatic youngest sister who has nursed her mother, Ruby (Ophelia Lovibond) is outwardly calm but prone to panic attacks, while Gloria (Leanne Best) rails at the heat and the world. 

They await their eldest sister Joan (Donnelly), who is coming from California. 

Through a series of flashbacks to the 1950s, cleverly executed with the help of Rob Howell’s impressive revolving set, we learn of their mother’s ambition for her children who she dreamed of turning into the next Andrews Sisters. 

This yearning for all things American is neatly encapsulated in Veronica’s naming of the guest rooms after US states. 

Things come to a head when Veronica entertains an oily agent (Corey Johnson). He claims only her eldest daughter, young Joan (Lara Mcdonnell), has any talent and insists on auditioning her alone, leaving us to imagine what goes on behind closed doors. 

Running at almost three hours, Butterworth’s rich, female-led psychological drama is enthralling, although a couple of digressions involving the male characters feel unnecessary. Nevertheless, Sam Mendes’ cracking production boasts a terrific cast and packs a punch. 

Until June 15

Originally published by Westminster Extra