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Thursday 10th April 2003
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FEATURES   BY JANE WRIGHT

Above: Geraldine Aron. Below: Dawn French in My Brilliant Divorce
Standing ovation for divorce diva
IT takes a certain sort of person to poke fun at an experience as painful and widespread as divorce. A divorced one, of course. But Belsize Park playwright Geraldine Aron was wondering why she bothered when the reviews for her first West End show, My Brilliant Divorce starring a solo Dawn French and dog on wheels, hit the streets.

“Let’s just say I’m never going to buy the Evening Standard again,” she told me.

“Of course divorce is frightful. But some of the reviews were ridiculous. I’m not promoting divorce in any way. Quite the reverse, in fact. And with an actress as warm and humorous as Dawn, and a bit of imagination, even a sad topic can be funny. What do people want? A dirge for an hour and a half?”

Her play even set the cat among the celebs. A tabloid-fodder friend, who suffered a very humiliating public divorce, asked her nervously before going to see the show: “Am I going to like this?”

But the playwright insists the audience at the Apollo Theatre does like it. “Dawn gets a standing ovation every night,” she said.

So, to write a play about divorce, Geraldine must be thoroughly sorted after hers. “Yes, I’ve recovered,” she says cautiously. “But it took a long time. I’ve only been through it once, after a long marriage. And, of course, My Brilliant Divorce isn’t my divorce at all.”

Since being on her own again, the Irish-born playwright has lived for six years in a flat in Belsize Grove. “I really like aspects of my independent life,” she says. “There’s so much bitching in marriage. It gets really depressing. Although of course, I’d love to get re-married.”
Has she found lots of good men out there?

“No, there aren’t any. Divorced men go out with younger women because they can get away with it. At any singles dinner, you’ll find a hundred beautiful women and five men in nylon shirts.”

She laughs when she remembers an early post-divorce date. Her prospective suitor said he would take her out to a concert, so she got all dolled up, then followed him down into the Tube.

“He was a busker!” she giggles with horror, before adding: “I have got a couple of admirers on the go at the moment, but I’m not intending to move in with them.”

After 25 years of writing plays and winning awards, being in the West End is still a thrill. “It’s the foremost place for drama in Europe,” she says.

Geraldine’s voice bears hardly a trace of the blarney these days. If anything, it’s more South African in tone, reflecting the years spent living there with her ex-husband.

They first arrived in Belsize Park, attracted there because they wanted to send their twin daughters, now grown up, to King Alfred School in North End Road. She still has connections in sunnier climes and has just returned from putting on one of her plays in Cape Town. Back home, she’s working on a new script, a trilogy of short pieces called Vacant Possession.

“I’ve written mainly full-length pieces before,” she says. “But it’s hard to write long plays. And, after my West End success, I hope it will be easier getting my work put on.”

I point out that, in Belsize Park, she’s handily positioned to take her place among the area’s glitterati. But she insists she doesn’t know any, and that, anyway, she’s much more fish and chips than tapas.

“I really miss Maxwell’s fish bar opposite Belsize Park Tube. And two Starbucks is too many. But Belsize Park is much smarter and cleaner these days. You used to find old toilets and mattresses in the street.”
She pauses, rootling round in her memory for possible playwright connections in the area, before exclaiming: “Doesn’t Peter Nichols live round the corner?”

n My Brilliant Divorce is at the Apollo Theatre. 020 7494 5070. Booking until May 10.