Quines Writes: A Mug's Game, Swan Lake, This House and more
- Quines Writes
- 5 June 2020
The second instalment in Stellar Quines' writing programme for young women in partnership with YWCA, Feminist Fringe and The List
Quines Writes is a writing programme for young womxn hosted by Stellar Quines, in partnership with YWCA, Feminist Fringe and The List, with the aim of tackling the gender imbalance in theatre criticism. Over six weeks, participants (Ella Pennycott, Louisa Doyle, Eve Simpson, Rebecca McIlroy, Carolyn Paterson, Katie Dibb and Ellen Leslie) will be given the opportunity to develop new skills from professional development with journalists and critics. As part of the programme, participants will write one full length review and interview, alongside five shorter reviews, to be released every week and published via The List. Find out more about the programme at stellarquines.com.
A Mug's Game
'I asked him if there were any masks, and you could just tell he thought I was pushing it.'
What seems like an account of PPE shortages in the workplace today, such words speak of a different time, delivered slightly off-centre against a plain backdrop by working-class Glaswegian, Jack (Jonathon Watson).
A Mug's Game is an extract from Fibres by Frances Poet, digitally devised for National Theatre of Scotland's Scenes for Survival programme, originally produced by Stellar Quines. A monologue piece, Jack reflects on his years working on the Upper Clyde Shipyards, exposed to asbestos dust that has left his health failing and nostalgia lurking. Louise Shepherd's uncomplicated direction attaches a humanity to industrial labour that is seldom understood as both honest, yet ultimately damning. There is constant tension between Jack's intermittent coughing, acting as a harrowing reminder of his expendability, and the description of the rose on his mantlepiece: a token of his worth. In such imagery, Poet depicts Jack as more than just a victim of his trade, 'nabbing' his rose from a bunch donated to UCS workers by John Lennon. Watson's display of meaning in Jack's history, in describing his pride with complete sincerity, allows simplistic storytelling to triumph. The relevancy of the narrative is such given the space to breathe by doing so little; I become victim to playing A Mug's Game of regret – regretful that my empathy for Jack cannot affect the continuity and relentlessness of working-class sacrifice. (Eve Simpson)
Everything is Possible
Everything is Possible, produced by York Theatre Royal and Pilot Theatre is an inspiring play that tells the little known story of the York suffragettes. Written by Bridget Foreman, the play follows Annie Seymour-Pearson, who joined the cause in 1913. She became the only York suffragette to serve time in prison and later ran a safe house to help other women. The play captures an important piece of British history and documents the sacrifices that these brave women made.
In true suffragette fashion, the play deviates from the expected. It starts in the present day outside the theatre, where a women's rights protest is taking place. The suffragettes march through, dressed in familiar colours and donning their placards. This blend of the past and the present brings the suffragette movement into context and reminds us that although women can vote, we are still unequal in many ways. Some scenes are reminiscent of today's society: there is a male-dominated parliament, men treat women as objects and women who publicly speak out about their mistreatment receive misogynistic comments.
The suffragettes' work isn't glamourised, and some scenes are hard to watch. But the play doesn't dwell on this and the women's resolve and dedication to the cause shines through. This reaches a climax in the closing scene, where the cast and choir join together in a song that sums up the message of the play. The determination on their faces and passion in their voices makes us truly believe that everything is possible. (Ellen Leslie)
Get a Round
From the couch, cup of tea in hand, Get a Round has taken me into the joyous chaos of a night out on the town.
The trio behind Eggs Collective, Sara, Lowrie and Leonie, write and perform Get a Round in this adapted for film version of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe show of the same name as part of the Performance Live Strand. Together they craft together a night out like no other. The smooth transitions between actively participating in the action and addressing the at-home audience emulate the muses in Grecian myth, just with more modern names like the Archbishop of Banterbury. Their infectious energy flows to us with the help of their audience acting as the familiar cast members of a night out.
The action moves lightning quick which on occasion sacrifices some great beats that we don't get to appreciate. It's political and social voice is deftly intertwined in the comedy. There's no stepping up to the lectern; it's conversational but still poignant enough to get it's audience thinking. It hits on the pressures of a male-orientated gaze that women are told to centre their validation on, the hurt behind the hilarious stories and the struggle to find your voice, to stay motivated to create real change.
A bedlam filled love letter to our pubs, Get a Round urges us to come together in a time still so divided and let bridges be built by a toast to a song nobody requested. (Rebecca McIlroy)
Watch Get a Round on iPlayer now.
End Meeting For All
Forced Entertainment have been enthralling and frustrating audiences for decades. Expect nothing less in their Beckettian series, End Meeting for All, which has been improvised and recorded on Zoom. They'll test your nerve with excessive repetitions, next to no exposition, heaps of hysterical and hopeless images to play out the torments of isolation. But the pay-off is transcendent.
The six sages of insanity (Robin Arthur, Tim Etchells, Richard Lowdon, Claire Marshall, Cathy Naden and Terry O'Connor) meet virtually for a constant uphill struggle to have even the simplest of interactions. Marooned in their windows, they attempt to connect and confide in each other against the odds of bad wifi, random distractions, meandering attention spans and waves of emotional despair. It's mind meltingly strange and slow, flashing us painful yet somehow funny reflections of ourselves.
The silliest, clownish vignettes crop up again and again in each episode. Cathy sweats and curses under a grey wig as she performs her frantic soliloquy of a woman suffering from the plague whilst Robin haunts his corner in a shoddy black and white skeleton costume. Then before you realise, out of the nonsense everything somehow aligns into mournful portraits of fear and human fragility. Someone laughs too loud about the parks being packed. Cameras red out under the pulsing palms of people's hands.
Forced Entertainment have made a masterful job of Zoom theatre, using the form to mesmerise their audience with this foggy collage. It's a slippery production that makes you mine for meaning. Not everyone's bag, but if you opt in for the chaos, the reward is brilliant. (Louisa Doyle)
Watch End Meeting for All now.
Memoirs of an Asian Football Casual
The good, the bad and the box-fresh cool, Memoirs of an Asian Football Casual written by Riaz Khan and adapted by Dougal Irvine revisits what truly was acceptable in the 80s. Debuting at Curve Theatre in 2018, directed by Nikolai Foster, we follow Riaz, a young Pakistani boy played by Jay Varsani and his brother Suf, played by Hareet Deol, growing up in Leicester in the 1980s. The talented duo deliver an energetic yet focused performance, portraying the racial abuse ethnic minorities face living in Thatcher's Britain, plus the violence that comes with it. Riaz finds refuge in a sea of Fila tracksuits and Diadora trainers when he joins the 'Baby Squad', Leicester City's football hooligan firm. The multicultural group of casuals are living proof that a shared passion for the beautiful game whilst parading the terraces in Aquascutum can transcend racial prejudice, ever-increasing due to the rise of The National Front. The bitter reality is the racial tensions of the time parallel the political climate of today but perhaps it's naive to think they ever left. Khan's story is nostalgic but truthful, he condemns his violent past and we sympathise with his struggle to appease his parents' expectations on his search for a sense of belonging, proving it can be found in the most unexpected of places. (Lucy Philip)
Watch Memoirs of an Asian Football Casual now.
Despite now being firmly canonised in the history of ballet, upon release Matthew Bourne's adaptation of Swan Lake was subject to walk-outs, reports of little girls crying that they had been brought to the wrong theatre and critics reductively dubbing it 'The Gay Swan Lake'.
Of course, replacing the iconic female swans with male dancers made it incredibly meaningful for gay audiences, but it also allowed the Swan to become a mirroring of The Prince himself, 'an image of something the prince could attain to instead of the original magical element'.
The Prince's inability to fulfil his role as a royal figure and to express himself sexually results in his inability to receive the affection that he desires. This freudian psycho-sexual narrative is symbolised by the swans, which appear to him at stages of unconsciousness; in his sleep, crawling from beneath his bed and in the park as he drunkenly considers suicide. Witness to his mother and the court's flirtations, her hand lingering on a soldier's chest, simultaneously repulses him and isolates him as he is continually kept separate from the court's and his mother's tenderness. In the final scene the Swan embraces the Prince in the foetal position, a gesture that is as romantic as it is maternal. (Katie Dibb)
The digital download of the recent production, recorded at Sadler's Wells, is available to purchase, which is recommended in order to support the currently struggling theatre industry. However, for those short of money, there is also a free upload of the 2012 version on YouTube.
Imagine a Parliament in crisis where MPs double-cross each other. Although this may seem scarily close to current events, it is the plot of the topical and satirical play This House.
As part of the popular National Theatre at Home Programme, this 2012 production takes the audience back to 1974. After a surprise election leads to a hung parliament with Labour in power, it is up to party whips to maintain Labour's dwindling majority against scandals and the Conservatives. The show takes place under a giant Big Ben, contrasting the characters' murky political deals with historic British values. Its soundtrack fuses guitar music with radio recordings of Margaret Thatcher's speeches. But what makes this play really stand out is the quality of its writing. James Graham's script carefully balances regional slang and sarcastic explanations of British politics to create truly authentic voices. Despite its comedy, This House still delivers searing political commentary. The play tackles the disintegration of two-party politics, class stereotypes and corruption. Interestingly, dance is used to explore this. In a choreographed scene where the Speaker attempts to escape from MPs but is trapped, Herrin questions who really polices the House of Commons.
On a more hopeful note, This House showcases the role of women in British politics through Ann Taylor, a teacher-turned MP with aspirations of becoming a Chief Whip. Although the 'boy's club' of democracy is under threat, a more equal political system is starting to take shape. (Carolyn Paterson)