James Haddrell reviews A Woman Walks Into A Bank opening at the Theatre503

In times of unrest, it is common for our storytellers to focus on the major players, telling stories of astonishing bravery, of unspeakable atrocity, of power politicians and international strategists.

James Haddrell, artistic director of Greenwich Theatre

However, those figures are in the minority, and what their stories can fail to capture is the identity of a nation represented by the lives, the characters, the actions and the feelings of ordinary people.

In A Woman Walks Into a Bank, a new play opening at new writing powerhouse Theatre503 later this month, writer and director Roxy Cook is aiming to do just that.

In Cook’s story, set in Moscow in the afterglow of an incident-free 2018 World Cup, an old woman walks into a bank and is conned into taking out a high interest loan – which she immediately forgets about.

A catastrophic series of events is set in motion… with only her cat Sally to bear witness.

Cook said: “The play starts with a true story – something that did really happen to my grandmother in Moscow.

The rest is fiction, a sort of modern Russian fairytale I’ve imagined to try and understand the bank manager who conned her and the debt collector who harassed her.

“Oligarchs, spies and politicians are part of the ‘Russian story’ – but they’re only one part of it. And maybe an act as small as a bank loan can tell us more about Russia than any sexy spy thriller ever can.”

With a set up and a style that reminds me of Splendid Productions’ There’s A Leak or Tom Fowler’s Katzenmusik, this darkly funny modern fairytale was selected from over 1,400 submissions from 45 countries to win the 2023 Theatre503 International Playwriting Award.

Pictures: the cast, from left, Giulia Innocente, Sam Newton and Keith Dunphy. Picture: Frank Herfort Photography

Described as a powerful portrayal of a country in crisis, the show promises to use biting humour and absurdism to interrogate the social apathy tearing Russia apart from the inside out.

Roxy Cook is a writer and director working across theatre and TV but A Woman Walks Into a Bank is her first play.

As well as winning the Theatre503 award, the play was also shortlisted for the Women’s Prize for Playwriting 2021 and longlisted for both the Bruntwood Prize and the Verity Bargate Award.

“I’d love A Woman Walks Into a Bank to take UK audiences on a journey through modern Moscow” she said.

“But through the eyes of ordinary Russians. Not the brave protesters risking their lives for democracy, or the pro-Putin zombies spraying Z on their cars. But the majority.

Disillusioned, disconnected… or just too tired to care.”

Lisa Spirling, artistic director of Theatre503, said: “Roxy takes us on a thrilling journey into a rarely explored, rarely seen, but much talked about world.

“One that explores uncomfortable truths but done with a twist of dark humour, a touch of absurdity, and a talking cat.

“Theatre503 couldn’t be prouder to share this world premiere with our audiences and to introduce Roxy’s unique voice to the world.”


Pictures: Frank Herfort Photography

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