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
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.
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.
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
Now until March 2019, Gielgud Theatre Tickets Here