After the success of The Ferryman, a second collaboration between director Sam Mendes and writer Jez Butterworth is a tantalizing prospect.

That was a multi-generational family drama set in rural Ireland, but here the Jerusalem playwright's territory is a former Blackpool boarding house in the sweltering heat of the summer of '76 - and the familial relationships are firmly female.

Set over three hours it's a painful and funny well-observed portrait of stymied female ambition, disappointment, and frayed mother-daughter bonds. Even if it falls down in the closing scene, it's never less than engrossing.

Ham & High: Ophelia Lovibond in The Hills of CaliforniaOphelia Lovibond in The Hills of California (Image: Mark Douet)

Designer Rob Howell's set of faux tiki bar, defunct juke box and vertiginous staircase ably conjures the Sea View guest house, whose lack of an actual sea view, and rooms named after American states, speak of dreams of escape.

Matriarch Veronica lies upstairs in the painful throes of cancer while her daughters gather below with their slightly useless husbands. Plain, agoraphobic Jill has stayed to care for ma, glamorous but bored Ruby (Ophelia Lovibond) married young, but is prone to anxiety attacks, and Leanne Best's Gloria is a sweaty mess of roiling resentment.

The teased arrival of Joan, the only sibling to have made it to the hills of California, and who hasn't returned for 20 years, hangs over the gathering, as a snatch of remembered dance routine swivels us back to Veronica's kitchen in the mid-50s.

Ham & High: Laura Donnelly as VeronicaLaura Donnelly as Veronica (Image: Mark Douet)

Here Laura Donnelly's rigorously controlled but kindly Veronica is coaching her daughters to perform an Andrews Sisters-style routine amid hopes of performing at the London Palladium.

"A song is a place to hide," she tells them, and while behind her back, Joan is smoking and yearning for a boy at the local dance, the sisters pull out the stops in peach-hued tasselled costumes and tap shoes when an American agent comes to town.

It produces a Me Too moment, and a maternal betrayal, that reverberates down the years, as Joan finally returns (Donnelly again) with California drawl and Afghan coat to explain why she never answered Veronica's letters.Ham & High: Leanne Best as Gloria in The Hills of CaliforniaLeanne Best as Gloria in The Hills of California (Image: Mark Douet)

It's an odd finale, with an un-needed plot twist, and a character who doesn't quite ring true, that makes you want more of Donnelly's blazing performance as a woman whose dreams for her daughters end in compromise, recrimination and alcoholism.

The Hills of California runs at The Harold Pinter Theatre London until June 15.