Tuck takes us on a journey of sequins and glitter that eventually blur through tears. It’s fierce and fabulous and goes out fighting. Like any good Queen. But there’s a real core of grief running through it. It’s a core of grief in some respects that Queer people know all too well. But it’s also a universal grief, that longing for connection and all too often missing it. And there’s a valuable lesson in it from writer Alun Saunders about not missing that connection.
Tuck takes place in a Cardiff Drag bar. It’s Cardiff through and through, and that’s a joy. But it’s also universal. We meet four Queens; older duo Patsy Thatcher (Stifyn Parri) and Marta Titful (Iestyn Arwel) and two younger Queens Medusa Massid (Lewis Brown) and Lola Bipolar (Gareth Evans).Two young, wide eyed and naïve, with a Katy Perry song at the ready. And two old Queens, a duo, who know all the standards, and so had you if you want to work in this bar.
The premise is simple enough, we watch the Queens on stage and backstage, and occasionally elsewhere. Staging it in Ffresh Bar is a brilliant asset. It’s part shiny cabaret, part copper trees, part bar that doesn’t know what it is. And it works. They surround us, on stage, in their dressing rooms, and at home. We get snippets of their lives, their relationships. Who they are, were and want to be- because isn’t that what Drag is about?
There is a really nice dynamic between the younger Queens, raised on Drag Race and Instagram, and still with a lot to learn about the culture they’re trying to be a part of. Of course there’s also an argument for them bringing new ideas, new ways of doing Drag to the established ways. And that’s a clever device. These young Queens might need a lesson or two in what’s gone before, might need to appreciate their history. But also, they’re making their own, moving Drag and Queer culture forward and that’s important too. Of course, they need to make their act ‘not shit’ first. And there’s nothing funnier than a Queen getting it spectrally wrong too. Their routines are hilarious. But as characters they also remind us that life isn’t so easy for the younger generation either. In Drag or out of it.
Meanwhile the older duo, with the world weariness of girls who have seen it all before. And the love and affection of a well-worn marriage. They are old school Queens in every sense. They are the generation that was battling it out and have no patience for, well Katy Perry routines for one. But there’s a lovely dynamic, in all the scolding, the eye rolling and yes, cutting wit- there’s a sense of bringing up the next generation. Of yes, the family you choose in Queer life so often.
And that choosing a family forms the heart of Saunders piece. More importantly the importance of finding a family you can confide in, trust, and rely on. But also, in looking out for that family. When Patsy loses her life to suicide it resonates across the group. Most of all with her long term partner in Drag Martha- or Steve. There are so many touching moments in their relationship, from their first meeting- the day he goes for a HIV test, to their weekly B&Q outings. They’re family and in losing her Steve grieves as he would for anyone, but also blames himself. We see Patsy unravel something her Drag family missed, because she didn’t think she could reach out and talk. And as much as it’s not an ‘issues’ play, that’s the issue at the heart of it. And the message.
Tuck it is easy to forget is also a bilingual play. Simply because it is so effortlessly so. No surtitles are used, instead the other characters interject asking for clarification at key points. Or elsewhere relies on an audience being able to interpret what happens, through performance, inflection or frankly just common sense. The characters behave as true bilingual people do, flitting from one language to the other (a third if we include Drag here). There’s no moments of ‘And this is a Welsh Scene Now’ which is to the piece’s credit. This also feels far more inclusive- it’s natural, understandable, and realistic. It is incidental Welsh in that the piece can be enjoyed with no knowledge of the language. But it is far from incidental in that it shows Welsh language and bilingual theatre what can be achieved with a real ear to the inclusive- but also without compromising the use of the language.
And language is the key of what Saunders is dealing with. The language of how we communicate. Both with the wider world in terms of who we are. And with each other about how we are. It can be a hard life out there, especially for those a little bit ‘different’ and learning to communicate is a harder lesson still. Tuck asks that question of the Queens and the audience ‘what if we just talked a bit more?’ and it’s an important one. What’s also important about Tuck is that it comes from those Queens. That those are voices telling this story. For humour, yes, for sheer entertainment because it is that. But also to hear from them, hear those stories.
Tuck is grounded in Drag culture. This isn’t just a quick reference gathered from a couple of seasons of Drag Race (not that there’s anything wrong with that) but Alun Saunders has created a work utterly immersed in that world. Having learned the art of Drag himself, first as research but then carried on through sheer love of it Saunders knows the craft and the culture. This is important, because not only is Drag an important cultural element of Queer community, history and culture, but it is used to significant effect in Saunders writing. Every line, every interaction fully understands that world and as a result none of it is artificial (well apart from the nails, the wigs, the eyelashes). It’s not just about accuracy of research, but it’s about passion and dedication to telling these stories from a place of truth and authenticity. Because anyone can tell a nice story with a Drag Queen, but Tuck is more than that.
Tuck is an unapologetic hymn to Queer culture and the importance of this is not to be underestimated. Drag is an integral part of the history, culture and community of Queer people. To make a work that celebrates that, embraces it and presents it without concessions to heteronormative culture is in itself a powerful thing. And a beautiful thing. It is so important, so very important for Queer people to tell their stories, put their culture on stage in their own words, and own it. And that as much as anything else is a vital thing that Tuck has done.
But also, talk to each other. Find the people you can trust. Because it’s not worth losing something quite so fabulous. Ever. 
At WMC until 3rd November tickets

Set & Costume Designer
Lighting Designer:
Sound Designer
Stifyn Parri- Patsy Thatcher/Patrick
Gareth Evans- Lola Bipolar/Teifion
Lewis Brown- Medusa Massid/Antoine
Iestyn Arwel- Martha Titful/Steve


Street/Izzy’s Manifesto- Spilt Milk Theatre

Spilled Milk  are back with a double bill of theatre. Two female led pieces that take on life, love and all its unpredictability.

Street- by Susan Monkton

Performed by Ella Maxwell
Directed by Becca Lidston 

This work in progress from Susan Monkton shows a strong voice and a real promise of a piece of interesting theatre. Performed with humour and vulnerability by Ella Maxwell, who veers between the early amusing escapades of a young woman on a night out, through to the range of emotions she experiences when the stuff of worse nightmares begins.

Monkton has a real ear for ‘Cardiff’ despite not being a native. Her descriptions, and Laura’s speech patterns are incredibly familiar- and hilarious. Her detailed descriptions of Cardiff give a sense of grounding to the play, that makes the darker turn of the second half really chilling. The level of detail in our journey through a night out with Laura, through to what happens at the end of City Road take in the details of Cardiff exceptionally. It becomes chillingly real for anyone who knows the city, but also a level of detail that elevates the writing.

Monkton writes with a real humour and heart. Her twenty-something Laura, and her experiences on a night out are familiar and hilarious. She’s relatable and recognisable, and that is key as the piece shifts towards its more serious point. In encountering what later appears to be some kind of terror attack, Laura ends up questioning what good and bad mean, and where she falls on that scale. She tries her best but also runs away. In focusing in on one ‘normal’ woman’s experience the piece raises a lot of interesting questions about how we respond versus how we think, or want to respond. And where we and others value us on the scale of good, bad and ‘hero’. In using the visual painting of the streets of Cardiff Monkton really brings home the ‘but it would never happen here right?’ question and the related ‘but what would I do?’ question.

It’s still a work in progress, so not without some elements that could be ironed out. The introduction of a second voice in form of voice- over is jarring, and interrupts the flow of Maxwell’s excellent performance. And while the confusion in the middle section is integral to us feeling what Laura does, at present it’s a bit too confusing and takes a bit too long to give any answers about what is going on.
All these are logistical elements that will work themselves out in the development. The key is the strong voice of the piece, and a work with something to say.

Izzy’s Manifestos- Kevin Jones
Performed by Angharad Berrow
Directed by Luke Hereford

In the opening Izzy admits that manifestos don’t always work. That sometimes you have to throw them away and start again. She does this a lot through Kevin Jones’ piece. In a literal sense as well as figuratively, and gives a lesson in best laid plans, and distraction as well as just trying to get from A to B with or without a plan.

Angharad Berrow bounds onto the stage, blazer on addressing the crowd and explains her system of manifestos. She starts with simple things; what she wanted to do when she was younger. Answer: everything. She then moves us through school, University, first loves, first disappointments, first love, loss and grief. Berrow gives a brilliantly engaged performance, balancing well the ‘Manifesto’ side in which she delivers her theories, with the storytelling and emotional core of Jones’ piece. She is a natural comic and her engagement with the audience, playing off their responses, and committing to the delivery of the manifestos is as hilarious as it is engaging. Berrows/Izzy should give school careers talks, we’d all listen then!

Luke Hereford directs the piece with energy and humour. It’s a Ted talk on a real budget (and with tech issues, as Berrow was quick to improvise around). But the direction also fits Izzy. She uses her flip chart and drawings (some pre-drawn some done live, of varying quality which reflects her declaration she can’t draw or paint). She fills the stage slowly with crumpled paper, the debris of failed manifestos. Of abandoned plans. It feels like a messy life adding up. Hereford finds the silly irreverence in Jones’ writing and gives it a lightness and energy that lets the emotional points hit home.

Jones takes us through Izzy’s life from school to post-University, through those difficult and formative years when manifesto or plan often feel quite redundant. But Izzy is trying her best. She doesn’t always get it right (fairly often in fact). She’s not always playing by the rules- from stealing someone’s art portfolio to get into Art School, to binning an Ipad in an act of frustration and revenge. It’s told with humour, and wry look at how messy life can get in those years. How confusing it is and how actually having a manifesto and sticking to it sounds like a great idea…if only it worked, or if only the rest of life could stick to it as well.

There’s much in the writing to relate to. From the ‘stick a pin in a map’ approach to University and post school life. To then deciding you hate your Uni flatmate on sight. To the monotony of a student night out (anyone who specifically experienced Nottingham nights out will relate). To the utter idiots you spend time with during those years. To the boyfriends. To the longing for something more than life offers, and the fear of being trapped in whatever you fall into after Uni. It’s all fairly simple, fairly universal but Jones tells it with such humorous flair, Izzy is the extremes of us all- trying to liven up a lunch hour by dressing as a Nun, desperate to become a genius and final becomes one as a Tax Administrator. Despite her planning she lives life at the extremes and it’s extremely relatable.

But Jones also writes with real heart, and the humour belies the darker emotional core. Izzy’s Manifestos cover a need, a want to yes be something more, be everything in fact. But also to control the uncontrollable in life. We get the sense of her seeking, her longing fro something that all the plans in the world cannot make happen. It’s at once that period of life where everything is in flux, but also feels like everything is being controlled.

It’s the final moments you see the core that Jones has run through Izzy’s life. We hear early on how her Dad asked her what she wanted to be, and she said everything. We saw the perfect moment of perfect family life dancing in the kitchen to 80s tunes. And then they disappear. Her Dad is disappeared from her life far too young. And when her friend says in the closing ‘It’s not my fault your Dad is dead’ it’s at once a red hot poker and a chill to the heart. Perhaps it takes a certain streak of recognition for the full effect, which is devastating. But it’s an emotive and honest comment on how all the planning in the world can’t fix some things.


Until Friday 26th October, AJ’s Coffee House, City Road, Cardiff



You Could Drive a Person Crazy- or what is not your business.

What Company did, was recognise that. To show we aren’t all just waiting around for Prince Charming to fix things. And even if he did, would we recognise him? Show him the door? Be just too busy? Or would we even be happy anyway? Would we, have we, missed our Theo? Could we or should we be happy with an Andy (I mean for more than a night, we could all enjoy him for a night). Or even PJ? Are we being, as our friends frequently say ‘too fussy’? Or should in fact we stay busy, do the things that make us happy, and have standards? Because after all we are pretty great- as Bobbie is too great- to waste it on those men. Or are we? And so it goes.

I wrote these words in my response to Company (which you can read here) were quoted back at me with the suggestion that I need to seek help from Sex and Love Addicts anonymous. By a male theatre professional. 

I’ll let that sink in. My review of this powerful, masterful show and my- as a woman in her mid thirties, like the protagonist- identifying with her, means I need professional help. 

Parking for a moment, the implications of telling someone that. This response for me illustrates exactly why Company was needed and how grossly some are still misunderstanding it. 

All those things I describe above, all those things are utterly normal for a woman. That’s like, a Tuesday, in thought processes. That’s also a lifetime of little adventures in love and life added up and distilled. That is the point of what Marianne Elliott’s stunning production shows us inside Bobbie’s head. That’s the point, no the reason, that a female led Company is the only version that could be staged, and have any real impact in 2018. 

When I say that single women ‘fall in love’ (ok or in lust) 20 times a day I don’t mean some unhealthy, obsessive, fixation. We’re not going full Fatal Attraction at any given moment. I mean that we see a person on the street, we imagine for a moment what a date, a kiss and yes ok sex might be like. Because they’re there and you’re bored and they’re hot. Or even if they’re not. 

More accurately it’s that thing where you go out on one date, or meet someone at a party, or even just match on a dating app. Or hell have a crush. And you imagine the future. The next week future, the New Years Eve Future, yes the wedding yes the babies. And sometimes it’s a Disney fantasy, sometimes yes, it’s a fucking sexual one because women are sexual beings. And sometimes, its a ‘oh fuck what have I gotten into’ one, of doom and boredom and oh shit I’ve made a mistake. 

And all of that is ok. All of that happens to all of us. Again, that’s the point of Elliott’s version. Women go through this, and then they go through the big questions; my life will change if I commit to this. If I decide I want this I will lose something, everything will change if I take this road. And it’s hard, and it’s gut-wrenching. And it’s a choice we all have to make. And I still applaud every second of that production for telling me so. 

And I resent the fact that it moving me- and 100s, hopefully 1000s of other women, because it reflected our everyday experience- got twisted into there’s something ‘wrong’ that needs fixing in me. 

And I feel I shouldn’t be defending this. But if someone said this to me, made me feel this way, I feel like I should use my small platform to say it for others. 

So let me say is now: every woman who identified with Bobbie, there is nothing wrong with you. There is nothing at all wrong with you. 

And there is nothing wrong with me. I do not need to seek ‘Treatment’ because I am 34 and single. I do not need treatment for the opportunities I missed. I do not need treatment if I go on dates and enjoy it (generally I don’t, I mean have you been on a date? it’s like a job interview). 

Moreover, it is not the place of a man to send an email to a woman he does not know telling her any of these things. 

However well intentioned. However much they think it comes from a place of caring or concern. You do not, I repeat do not, say to a woman you do not know, whose relationship history you do not know, whose life and even potential past trauma you do not know. You do not tell that woman she has issues with sex and relationships. You certainly do not tell that woman how beneficial seeking treatment would be. 

Because that in part is where some of this production comes from: men think women’s love lives and yes their sex lives, are their business. But continue to be the property of men. I could have brushed off this email, but I strongly feel I owe it to all women to speak up on even the smallest of these things. Not to just brush them off as ‘oh men’ or ‘no big deal’. Because this is a big deal.

Not to mention I wrote this review in my professional capacity (no matter what the person in question thinks of that). And my professional work is not an invitation to comment on my private life.

That they believe they are within their rights to have an opinion and to give that woman their opinion. Let me say it right here and now: you do not have that right.

In closing however, I defer to a woman older and wiser than I am whose response to this tale was ‘It’s fucking rude.’

And it is. And that’s why I’ve spoken up. 


Lands- Antler- The Other Room

Bounce. Bounce. Bounce.

Is she going to do that the whole show?

Yes, yes she is. Bounce.

Lands by Antler is a simple premise: two obsessions and the isolation the cause.

Sophie bounces eating some crisps while the audience comes in. Leah greets everyone while narrating her jigsaw process. She logs each piece and describes its content before putting it aside. It’s a questionable sounding puzzle- all adult shops and possible nudity. To her right a completed jigsaw sits. When a completed jigsaw sits on stage you know there’s a possibility it won’t stay that way for long…

Lands is funny and sweet. Leah’s obsession with the jigsaw, and her descriptions of it are as endearing as they are amusing. She describes the completed one as her ‘ruin and salvation’ and anyone who has ever had an inkling of obsession will understand that. Actually anyone who has ever wrestled with a 1000 piece jigsaw will understand that. Meanwhile Sophie bounces away in the background. You wonder for a while if we’re going to acknowledge that or if she’s just going to continue bouncing away. It doesn’t really matter, it’s entertaining and kind of soothing that repetitive bounce bounce coupled with Leah’s strange yet soft narration of their puzzle.

But Sophie is stuck. On it. Leah recalls she hasn’t seen her off ‘it’. They never name their obsessions, it’s not ‘off the trampoline’ or ‘I’m doing my jigsaw’ it’s always abstract. They are those things but they aren’t. So she tries to get Sophie off ‘it’. Firstly by persuasion. Then by force. Therein are a good 20 minutes of ingenious physical work by the two. Their performance partnership is shown to it’s full strength here- the physical symbiotic of the performance as well as the comedy of it. Sophie can also raise a laugh with a well timed bounce, and that’s a particular comedic skill.

There is a darker edge to the second half of the play. And the escalating argument between the two- culminating in, yes that puzzle flying across the stage and shattering- brings up more poignant issues of isolation, loneliness and how we interact with one another.

It’s all very subtly done, abstractly presented in this devised piece. And on the surface it’s a pleasant, often entertaining way to spend an hour. But underneath there’s a lot to say about modern life, how we pursue our obsessions at the expense of others. And whether we want to be in our bubble alone or not.

3 *

Directed and devised by Jaz Woodcock-Stewart
Performed and devised by Leah Brotherhead and Sophie Steer
Produced by Claire Gaydon with support from Hannah Smith

At The Other Room until 20th October. Tickets here


"Want Something" Thoughts on Company

There’s knowing you’ll love a show. And there’s not knowing how much you needed a show.
The idea of Company with a woman was incredibly exciting. Even more so because it immediately annoyed Sondheim purist dinosaurs. To the point they were spitting venom about the end of musical theatre as we know it before even a note had been sung. And the moment it opened younger audiences who had never seen Company before similarly lamented that it could ever have been done with a man. ‘But it’s a woman’s story’. And for 2018 it is. It could only be.
Company is a chameleon of a show. Despite the insistence of some that it belongs firmly, unchanged in its 1970s box, it in fact is abstract enough to take on whatever it needs to. The Donmar production in the 1990s with Adrian Lester proved that. In 2006 John Doyle took it apart and showed just what else it could be. Marianne Elliott has, mathematically, changed far less than Doyle did (for those keeping score) but while she’s fundamentally changed the show, what she’s actually done is deliver the essence of it in a way that speaks to us today.
Company could be done with a man today. It could be done as written, with a nice charismatic leading man (hell we could promote Richard Fleeshman from his role as Andy and he could do it). It could be staged 70s style or even vaguely present day. And it would be a nice, solid piece of musical theatre. But with a man, as written, it wouldn’t do what Company does with Rosalie Craig in the lead, what Company should do. What it should, does do here is reach in, pull you apart and put you back together again.
Early on Company feels incredibly current, and not through any textual changes. The opening number the frantic number of friends shouting for Bobbie, each needing a bit of time, bit of attention. It wasn’t written in the age of social media and constant connection, but it could have been. It applies to anyone but there’s a particular role for the single person- particularly a woman- in a social circle that sometimes feels like everyone wants a piece of you. As Bobbie’s friends grow louder and louder all wanting something, pulling her in 10 directions at once…but with a slight feeling of emptiness that is nobody’s fault. It’s that feeling of busy, of a big group of friends, all of which at the end of the phone but still feeling alone. That’s a frighteningly modern condition.
And the point being that this re-working needs very little to feel current. For all the talk of textual changes, names and pronouns aside there’s very little. The slick modern set, which cleverly invokes the interconnectedness and claustrophobia of modern New York living, immediately gives a sense of time and place, while also being timeless. One reference to ‘I’ll text you to explain’ one visual gag of Bobbie saying she meets men ‘all the time’ while looking at her phone immediately situates the piece today with little feeling of forced change. The rest is already inherent in it. The frantic pace of life- in ‘Another Hundred People’, the clamouring of friends for attention in ‘Company’ the pace of modern dating ‘You could drive a person crazy’. Everything that is in the text translates to a contemporary setting. More so, when told through the lens of a woman.
And of course, Bobbie’s dates. Or who she dates, are a key element in this re-imagining. From PJ the Hipster boy who is clearly a mistake for most people. The man who knows it all and is cooler than everyone. But who you date anyway, because he’s there. A great framing device in ‘Another Hundred People’ he seems to morph into all the bad dates, all hundred or more you might go through to get to something else.
And then there’s Andy. Probably a favourite for many reasons in Richard Fleeshman’s incarnation. If staged in the original incarnation today, the stupid, probably blonde, Air Hostess shamelessly pulled to bed by Bobbie becomes actually if not actively sinister in tone, then certainly not endearing. Switched it becomes a delicious commentary on gender expectation and female gaze. And Elliott plays to that. Andy is in fact charming, if as the text says, not bright. But he’s endearing, sweet and (ahem) generous in the way he’s seen to treat Bobbie. What Elliott does with the scene however is a masterstroke. Firstly, there’s the power play at work. Bobbie, as the woman, holds all the sexual power over Andy and he seems happy with the arrangement. Secondly, for the audience Elliott has Fleeshman in all his gym-honed glory, spend much of the scene in a pair of very small pants. Both a play on, and strike to, every girl who has had to stand in her underwear on stage for no real reason. It’s deliciously self-aware and funny (right down to a perfectly timed thumbs up) and a perfect re-write of the Bobbie as bachelor existence.
Integrated into this scene is ‘Tick Tock’, an often-cut piece which again, works masterfully in the switch. As Bobbie is in the midst of her charming-yet-dull date with Andy she starts imagining a life with him. Cleverly staged in how we see it Elliott’s staging plays on the idea that when you’re single you imagine falling in love 20 times a day (or lust depending on the time of day). More seriously the fact that perhaps women in particular run the ‘what if’ scenario with every new date. And cleverly staged, integrated with the now somewhat hilarious date, we see that. It’s also crucially the only time reference to Bobbie’s biological clock is made overtly- and this is to Elliott’s credit. It would be easy to heavy handily labour that point (pun intended). In fact, by not saying it for much of the production Elliott mirrors reality: it’s an always unspoken element for women. Whether you want babies or not, your own and other people’s expectation of the matter looms either in the background, or ever larger across life as a woman. Elliott doesn’t need to stage it more than once; it’s already there.
Marriage is the mantra that looms large in Company. And perhaps that’s the element that makes it feel dated to some. The idea that we’re ‘over’ marriage. That it’s not an issue. Ask a woman that question. Because even if she doesn’t want to get married, even if in the abstract society has ‘moved on’. She won’t feel that. And as this production highlights the idea of Marriage is still one fraught with conflict at times. In a particularly clever bit of recasting the ‘Not Getting Married Today’ number is given to Jonathan Baily, one half of the only gay couple in the piece. And it raises questions of marriage as an institution that would be difficult to address in the traditional female casting.
Jonathan Bailey’s tour de force performance of ‘Not Getting Married’ is something to behold on stage. There’s no denying the skill and energy in its execution. But it’s easy to overlook the depth of that performance. ‘Not Getting Married’ re-written as a man questioning his marriage to another man is one of the most intelligent moves, and necessary re-writes. As a woman singing it, the piece would undermine much of what Bobbie and this re-staging stands for. But in giving it to a gay character it opens up the song to something new, and some really interesting and difficult questions for contemporary audiences. Bailey captures well the confusion associated with those, especially of this generation of 30 somethings, who grew up gay and told marriage wasn’t for them. Only to be ‘gifted’ with the institution as adults. How to reconcile that with the gay/Queer identity you’ve grown up with? Should you be ‘buying in’ to heteronormative society, conforming to traditions, and how to do that in a same-sex relationship? All those coupled with natural wedding day jitters come spilling out in Bailey’s performance, and as much as it’s funny and frenetic, there’s an underlying sadness a reminder that even in 2018 things aren’t that easy for gay couples always. The scene resolves however with something that is the essence of Company- seeking out connection and love in whatever form. When Jamie runs out with Paul’s umbrella it’s that act of kindness, love and compassion that is the underscore of what Company wants us to look for.
And underneath the wit and the fun, that’s what Bobbie is looking for, and telling us. And it’s a difficult and complicated thing for a woman. There’s not a moment- and Elliott and Craig are careful to craft this- that she’s unhappy with who she is and how she lives her life.  That’s not what it’s about. It’s about that balance of being happy with that, but also that there’s nothing wrong with longing for more.
The staging of ‘Marry me a little’ and ‘Being Alive’ mirror each other. And it’s a perfect bookending of the piece. It’s also Elliott being intelligent and instinctive about the material- knowing when to let it speak for itself. But also, a strong message to the audience on listening when a woman is talking. Both these numbers are our insights into Bobbie’s mind. Nobody else is on stage, she’s talking to herself, and to us. It becomes now an insight into the conflict of, and honesty inside her-and the women in the audience who share those sentiments-mind.
In Marry me a Little (a grossly misused at weddings song) we see Bobbie defeated. Resigned. It’s a combination, seeing Jamie and Pauls’ wedding, the sadness of being rejected as a ‘back up’ by Jamie. The thought that if everyone else is, can, wants to well maybe that’s the way. Barely a woman alive hasn’t had that moment- be it for marriage or simply opting for a relationship that’s less than ideal just for a sense of a moment’s piece from everyone else, from ourselves. Because we feel we should. That perhaps it would all be easier if we just got married. More than that though, Bobbie in that moment isn’t ready. Doesn’t understand what she wants. As so many can empathise, the desire to ‘want something’ but not yet knowing what that something is. And as a woman the instinct- the need to remain a little guarded, to hold back. To just want to marry someone a little. Just in case.
Meanwhile ‘Being Alive’ is a masterclass in the complexities of love and life as a woman today. Having just looked into the mirror of Patti LuPone’s masterclass in musical theatre that is ‘Ladies Who Lunch’ Bobbie seems haunted by the vision. And her version of Being Alive- again stripped back to her alone on stage, becomes a conflict between what she resolutely believes she is not, does not want. And what she is afraid of being.
 Craig starts off cynical, mocking even of the ideas she sings about. You get the sense of the walls long built by any woman in their 30s. For women those ‘so many reasons for not being with someone’ can be complex, difficult, and as it happens very very different for those of a man. And Craig delivers this. And then cleverly segues into the heart of the song- and the musical- about figuring out what you want, but on your terms. And about being able to admit that to yourself. It would be easy to be reductive in a female led version, that yes Bobbie ‘wakes up’ and ‘opens that door’ to marriage and all is well. Luckily Elliott and Craig are both more nuanced in that. Yes, Craig delivers us a heart-wrenching rendition of ‘Being Alive’ full of heart and longing. But it’s not longing for a sudden revelation that marriage and children are the answer. It’s a longing for what the answer might be.  It would be easy to belt out a life-affirming rendition. To pretend there was some divine revelation. Instead Craig moves from cynicism to bewilderment. Asking, rather than telling, and never really settling on an answer. Because life is more complicated. And for a lot of women it’s more complicated than simply ‘want something’ or ‘want what your friends want you to want’.
Despite that complex, almost grief filled rendition, Elliott gives Bobbie a defiant ending. One that suggests, maybe, Being Alive is exactly what you make of. And indeed, take control of. Even for a moment. And that’s enough.
Because Company sort of has one, and that other recent play of Elliott’s has one. And because this Company requires the kind of personal response only this can give.
I knew I’d love this production. I didn’t know how much I needed it. I didn’t know how much it would mean to feel so, for want of a less cliché description ‘seen’.
Women aren’t allowed to doubt, even in 2018 that they want marriage ‘and all that’. We aren’t trusted when we say we’ve ‘looked at all that’. And nobody believes us that it’s more complicated than all that.
What I saw in Company was a woman like me. A woman with many friends, a woman who dates. A woman who is busy and often pulled in 10 different directions at once by those friends all wanting a piece of her. But also, a woman a little left out. A little left out for not fitting the mould.
When you’re not married, and over 30, people start leaving you out. They leave you out of events. They leave you out of conversations because you ‘wouldn’t understand.’ I know every week there are dinners, and brunches and who knows what else I’m not invited to because you need to come as a pair to be invited. The most upsetting part of watching Company was sitting there thinking ‘they’re going to leave her’ not of the men, but of her friends. I’ve been the fun almost ‘pet’ like single friend, invited along for a laugh. But there’s a sense as time progresses of novelty running out. Of the fear of being told outright (as I have) ‘I can’t talk to you, because you aren’t married’ or ‘I’m only really having Mothers in my life now’. And so you question, do I join them? Whether I want that, want ‘him’ or not? Just to not be alone? Or do I stick to who I am, and risk that, being alone. Not even risk, just wake up one day and find its happened.
And it’s not, like Bobbie that I’ve been resisting marriage- or whatever. But the line that cut most deep were those about being busy with other things. For Bobbie, for me, there were just always other things. And I don’t know honestly some days if that makes me happy or sad.
What Company did, was recognise that. To show we aren’t all just waiting around for Prince Charming to fix things. And even if he did, would we recognise him? Show him the door? Be just too busy? Or would we even be happy anyway? Would we, have we, missed our Theo? Could we or should we be happy with an Andy (I mean for more than a night, we could all enjoy him for a night). Or even PJ? Are we being, as our friends frequently say ‘too fussy’? Or should in fact we stay busy, do the things that make us happy, and have standards? Because after all we are pretty great- as Bobbie is too great- to waste it on those men. Or are we? And so it goes.
Being a woman has always been complex. And in 2018 no more so. With more rights than ever, but also lagging behind still. With freedom to be who we are, live our lives as we are. But still marriage, or at least coupledom looms large. As does motherhood. My childless state is something to be pitied by most women, feared and viewed with suspicion by others. What scares others the most however is my seeming inaction to ‘fix’ either of these things.
I’m not saying Bobbie or I are right or wrong to live our lives as we do. I’m not saying that either of us on our 35th Birthday need to make that choice. Can make that choice.
But when I cried in the theatre it was because finally I could hear that voice, my voice, without pity or judgement. Elliott and Craig together gave women an honest portrayal or all those complexities. There’s a bit of Bobbie’s life in all of us. Some like me feel her all the way, I felt like my entire life was on stage before me. Others will see glimpses. All of us will see something.
And I am so thankful for that. For feeling the woman, front and centre on stage and for all those women in the audience I’m sharing it with. All it’s complexities. I don’t need a happy ending for that to be important. I just needed to feel like a story I’ve lived has been told. And it has. And I am so thankful.
And from a theatrical point of view. It was time, it was damn time, that a woman got to belt out Being Alive. For every theatre kid who grew up wanting the parts they were told they can’t have. Marianne Elliott and Rosalie Craig gave us that as well.

Now until March 2019, Gielgud Theatre Tickets Here


Skin A Cat- The Other Room

Sex and shame are a powerful combination. Especially for women. What we do and don’t do with or put in our vaginas is somehow a public matter of interest. Yes, the word vagina is in the first line of this review. Because if Isley Lynn’s ‘Skin A Cat’ teaches us anything it’s to be bold in talking about everything about sex, especially for women.
This isn’t though a shouty Vagina Monologues-esque performance art piece. Or that scary play Chandler from ‘Friends’ gets trapped in (my personal benchmark of horrific ‘women’s issues’ plays). When actually Lynn’s play is more like your favourite sitcom- if Channel Four would let you explicitly discuss anal sex. It’s warm and funny, and entirely relatable for anyone who grew up trying to figure out life and sexual politics. But it also says all the things you wish TV or theatre had said during those years. Because then we might be all a little less messed up when it comes to sex. Because as Lynn brings to light in her wildly funny, incredibly filthy (in a good- no great way) play, is that if we just talked about it more perhaps, perhaps we’d all feel a little less like we were broken.
The play follows her from first period, to not being able to use tampons like her ‘normal’ friends. To trying to lose her virginity (house parties and vomiting included of course). Through to first love and losing her first love.  Early on a mystery moment in her first sexual encounter leads her to believe she can’t have sex. A visceral moment, and one we only see once more it feels like opening a secret door to anyone who has ever felt something wasn’t quite ‘normal’ in the bedroom (or toilet, or park or wherever you choose to do ‘it’ no judgment). In Alana’s story it turns out to be the fairly vaginismus. A common but rarely talked about psychosexual disorder in which the muscles spasm during penetrative sex, causing anything from pain to what can look like a seizure. It’s both a physical manifestation- the pain- but also psychological- in reaction to the pain. As her Mum later misunderstands, it’s not a condition that just affects victims of sexual assault, but in fact a fairly common- and treatable- condition that affects lots of women. In the play Alana goes from trying to overcome her condition by force, to seeking help to eventually finding her own way to do things. None of it is clear cut and easy- there’s no magical moment where Alana is ‘fixed’ and that’ precisely the point in the end- even though vaginismus is a very real condition, Lynn’s play is about one condition, but our wider feelings of sexual shame.
Even without the underscoring of Alana’s condition, Lynn’s play would be a powerful piece of work. The honest, and yes very funny discussion of fumbling through sexual encounters rings true for anyone- whatever gender. From the High School discussion of tampons and first sex (the friend who says she came four times the first time). To University encounters (the friends trying to sleep her way around the globe with a boy from every country, the gay best friend). To the exploration and pain of first love (and early 00s dumping by email). It’s told brilliantly, with Lydia Larson as Alana narrating the whole story, while Libby Rodliffe and Joe Eyre take on everyone and everything. From Mum to cinema side effects. It’s pacy, and told with a fast explicit humour. And every name for male and female anatomy you can think of (and a few you possibly haven’t).
Despite there being a real condition, she is dealing with- and Lynn doesn’t dismiss that in the writing-the most moving moment is when Alana is told she doesn’t need to be ‘fixed’. There is a moment of realisation that everything she thought was ‘wrong’ was really coming from outside herself. It is in various configurations, a reflection of shame. The moment she declares that she tells partners to essentially take it or leave it- and that most of them are still on board is incredibly powerful. We’re told as women to conform, be what society, be what men, media and again porn, tell us to be. Even for Men there’s an incredible pressure to conform. To be a certain way sexually, and if not to not be a man, to be something shameful. Because we’re taught firstly not to speak of these things, and secondly that anything outside of these norms we don’t actually speak of, is wrong. When in fact, most of us are just fine thanks.
That feeling of sexual shame that permeate women’s – and indeed men’s attitudes towards sex comes from a multitude of things. It’s a social issue- we don’t talk about sex openly enough- it’s an issue of misogyny, of our massively distorted ideas about sex from media and porn. It’s about all of our personal mental-and physical conditions. And it’s about the idea that with sex there is one ‘normal’ and one ‘way’ and everything else is at best deviant (and slightly acceptable because it’s ‘kinky’), but at worst, and usually for women ‘shameful’ and ‘wrong’. Women carry the ideas of what sex should be, extremely distorted ones often, from a young age. And it’s all consuming and damaging, even without a specific condition to ‘overcome’. More so for anyone who ever experienced something out of the ‘ordinary’ (which probably is more ordinary than we think). Shame is such an all pervasive, and under discussed element of our sexual world. Anyone who deviates slightly will have felt it- whether it’s sexuality, age you did what or how, not liking things you’re supposed to, liking things you’re not supposed to. And never being able to talk about it for fear of that shame.
Lynn has written a powerful play that bares all, without straying into shock tactics. The very act of sitting and laughing and sharing those moments of recognition with the audience is a powerful moment. For women, who perhaps share these in whispers or drunken moments with friends, to see all of this presented with honest and humour, but also crucially without shame. For men, it’s both an insight into what women go through, what the world has done to us all too often. But also might help them too. Because men aren’t immune either. It’s also a throughly heart warming piece- of friendship and navigating family relationships. And I defy anyone to not ache with joy and/or longing when Alana’s latter boyfriend just holds her when things get difficult sexually. Because underneath it all, the sex the shame- and all the noise that creates- it’s about that human connection we’re all longing for too. 

It’s a play that should tell 25 year olds and under that they’re doing fine. That the fumbling through it all is normal and at some point they’ll find a balance, they’ll find the way that works, and that they should probably keep speaking to their friends about it all. For anyone older, you’ll wish you had seen this play at 25. But maybe, just maybe we can all realise that we’re nothing to be ashamed about. That we should probably talk about it more. Oh and of course that sometimes, sex is just really, really funny too.
Skin a Cat is on at The Other Room until 13th October
Details (including relevant trigger warnings) here tickets available here