The Killing of Sister George

October 2005

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The Killing Of Sister George - by Frank Morse
Performed - October 2005

Frank Morse's taboo shattering play of lesbian relationships and one of the funniest plays of the 60s. June is a lesbian who plays the part of a nun, Sister George, on a successful television soap opera. Her world collapses when the show's executive director, Mrs Mercy, decides to kill off June's character. As she searches for another acting job, she begins to abuse her lover, Alice 'Childie', and spirals into a self-destructive free fall. The precociously frank and sultry depiction of June's sexuality earned the film an X rating in many places upon its initial release. Though time has muted the once-controversial aspects of The Killing Of Sister George, it remains a historically resonant piece.

Audiences at Blackfriars last week were treated to an absorbing piece of theatre in the Boston Playgoers production of The Killing of Sister George. 

The play centred around an ageing lesbian actress June Buckridge, who plays the very popular character of Sister George in a BBC radio soap opera, and her relationship with her much younger live-in lover Childie. Known to millions of listeners as the cheerful and friendly district nurse in the fictional village of Applehurst, George's real life character is quite a contrast. Her aggressive, hard-drinking manner begins to cause problems both professionally and privately, and when she learns that the BBC are writing her out of the show the death of her soap character mirrors the demise of her personal life. The action takes place in the couple's London flat.

The subject matter of this black comedy was considered highly controversial when the film version, starring Beryl Reid and Susannah York, was released in the 1970s. No longer shocking in present times, what carried the play was the depth and complexity of the characters, all beautifully portrayed by the four-strong cast.

The 'blokey' George was quite expertly illustrated by Glyn Ruskin, and the part required much more than the simple delivery of consistent boorish behaviour. As George's life begins to break down Ms Ruskin revealed the character's true weakness and vulnerability and thus redeemed the seemingly irredeemable. She also made the most of some very funny lines.

Childie was an especially interesting character, on the face of it a sweet and charming girl who has been completely subjugated by George and worthy of our sympathy. However, this masks the reality of an emotionally scarred 34-year-old woman without the courage to make her own way in the world. Despite her resentment and protests to the contrary she needs George to be dominant and in control. Thus, when George herself starts to show vulnerability, and seeks emotional support, Childie can only be superficially available to her and pulls away, forcing George to retreat into the dominating and insensitive persona she has created for herself. When the sharp suited Mrs Mercy, from the BBC, enters the scene, Childie sees a way out and embarks on a course of emotional manipulation and seduction to get Mercy to offer an escape. The range and subtleties required of this part were great and may have been beyond a lesser actress than Melanie Clark.

For her part the slick, smarmy and opportunistic Mrs Mercy, played to perfection by Judy Mugleston, is all too eager to be seduced and keen to prize the enticing Childie away under the guise of concern about her welfare.

Although more of a drama than a comedy, there were witty lines throughout and an especially funny scene with George and Childie dressed as Laurel and Hardy for a fancy dress party. There were also comic interludes throughout with the appearance of George's neighbour, the scatty psychic Madame Xenia, played by Kathy Fullerton.

If there were to be a criticism of the production it would be that scene one lacked some pace, but this was resolved from scene two onwards. 

This was a demanding play for the actors and Playgoers should be proud that they had the talent to pull it off so successfully. The action was well directed and the whole production enhanced by a magnificent set.

David Edgar / Boston Standard

Actors names on right:

June / Sister George - Glyn Ruskin
Mrs Mercy - Judy Mugleston
Alice / Childie - Mel Clark
Madame Xenia - Kathy Fullerton

Production Team

Director - John Jackson / Chris Tinsley / Ros Blowers
Producer - 
Stage Manager - 
Set Design - 
Set Construction - 
Stage Crew - 
Costume - 
Furniture & Properties - 
Lighting - Paul Gibson
Sound - Paul Gibson
Poster - 
Publicity - 
Programme - 
Make Up - 
Prompt - Lucy Taylor