PlayList: February 2014

Waiting for Summer at Camden Etcetera Theatre. My lovely friend Kate Baiden produced this evening of four short plays with Swivel Theatre, exploring themes of Arab women in revolution. The versatile cast of six women played all the roles across type and gender, with a standout performance from Dilek Rose as a hilarious and surprisingly sympathetic man philandering on a business trip, intoxicated with the novelty of Europe (and also just intoxicated). The four plays were funny, sad, and a breath of fresh perspective.

SPARK at the VAULT Festival. Writer and director Chloe Mashiter is a member of the GAP Salon (Gender and Performance), so I’m having a lovely time getting to know her and her work. In SPARK, a woman wades through the sea with her (possibly dead or imaginary) fiance to a little hut on an island. The venue was perfect – the chilly, drippy, soggy Vaults underneath Waterloo Rail Station. The show is dark and gothic and tangled – writing about it so much later, I remember not so much the details of the story but the intensity of Holly Cambell’s performance, and some really gorgeous turns of phrase. Chloe writes about the making of the piece on her blog – and do follow her online for more project updates.

No Such Thing at New Diorama Theatre. I went to this delightful evening of short performances to see some friends’ work in progress, and was so happy to discover a host of talented performers working on a huge variety of interesting ideas. Keep an eye on Cuckoo and Co, Hot Tubs and Trampolines, and Old Watty Theatre Company in particular.

A Taste of Honey at the National Theatre. It’s not often that I feel there’s a huge gap between the cultural context I bring to the theatre and the context that my fellow Brits bring. But this was one of those times. Studying theatre in the US, I’d never heard of this 1950’s taboo-busting play, but apparently every drama student studies it here. The production was well-executed, and I’m happy to see the National Theatre putting some female stories on their big stage for a change. Ultimately, though, I left the theatre feeling like I’d been to a museum. Oh well. It’s helpful to slip back into the mainstream once in a while to remind myself why I’ve chosen to focus on more experimental work.


To Freedom’s Cause at the House of Commons. Writer and performer Kate Willoughby is working tirelessly on the Emily Matters campaign, to erect a statue of suffragette Emily Wilding Davison in the Houses of Parliament (where currently about 6% of statues honour female figures in history – roughly the same percentage as female representation among MPs). Kate and her team packed a tiny room in the House of Commons with gender equality advocates for a performance of her play To Freedom’s Cause, which tells the story of Davison’s profound and controversial contributions to the suffrage movement. The discussion afterwards was electric and fast-paced. You’ll find much more information about the play and the campaign on Kate’s website, and by following the #emilymatters hashtag on Twitter.

Splinters at OvalHouse. I’ve been following director Amy Draper’s work ever since I saw Styles Saturn Returns, her collaboration with trans performer Rhiannon Styles at Camden People’s Theatre last September. This latest work in progress, Splinters, explores the friendship between a old woman trying to remember and a young man trying to forget. I’m intrigued to see how the piece develops – already Amy is experimenting with music, singing, and a fractured performance style that evokes the disorientation of someone living with Alzheimer’s. Keep an eye on her website for more news.

Blurred Lines at the National Theatre. I’m very conflicted about this one. Possibly the most high-profile piece of feminist theatre this year, Blurred Lines is a collaboration between director Carrie Cracknell and writer Nick Payne, with an excellent ensemble of women. The GAP Salon planned a group trip to the National, and I was glad to discuss the play with other feminists afterwards. I hate to criticize the National Theatre for being too mainstream twice in one post… but… This was a play for people who had previously thought very little about the relationship between feminism and culture, who had seen the title of the piece and thought, “Oh yeah, wasn’t there some kind of uproar about that song last year?”  Making many (too many?) points about the way women are treated in arts and media, Blurred Lines skimmed the surface of huge issues without contributing much of anything new to the conversation. Then again, putting these issues on the National Theatre stage is new, and probably worth celebrating. Perhaps I am expecting too much of a piece that is walking a fine line between art, entertainment, activism, and accessibility. But I wish the piece had expected a little more of its audience  – who, self-selecting as they surely were, likely had a deeper knowledge of these issues than the creators gave us credit for. And yet I could also critique the production for not being mainstream enough, being squashed as it was into the Shed, where both the set and the audience were overflowing from the tiny studio space. Baby steps. This certainly feels like progress for the theatre, at least.

Hamlet at New Diorama Theatre. Oh Hamlet. Every production I see makes me want to direct my own – some because they get it so right and open up new interpretations of text, story, and character, others because…well, the opposite. I might have some Hamlet news later this year, stay tuned.

Tamasha Theatre’s Mothers and Daughters scratch night at RichMix. Responding directly to recent statistics about the lack of roles for women, especially older women, in theatre, Tamasha Theatre put out the call for new short works or excerpts of works in progress that focus on mothers and daughters. Add this gender awareness to their main focus on intercultural theatre practice, and Tamasha is my kind of company.

The Count

3 male directors/ 4 female directors * not including directors/creators  of short pieces at No Such Thing or Tamasha Theatre.

5 male writers/ 5 female writers * not including writers/creators of short pieces at No Such Thing or Tamasha Theatre.

17 male actors /43  female actors *nothing like a few big-cast all-female shows to offset a Hamlet.