Quines Writes: Bogey Man, Wasted, The Goes Wrong Show and more
- Quines Writes
- 3 July 2020
The final 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.
Bogey Man (Los Angeles Theatre Center)
Reza Abdoh was an Iranian-born American theatre artist who achieved a ground-breaking career despite his early death due to AIDS at the age of 32 which was accelerated, in part by his decision to stop taking his medication.
His productions were overwhelming assaults on the audience. Fractured scenes borrowed from talk shows, BDSM, raves and King Lear, long before this cut-up method was accepted. His first New York production Father Was a Peculiar Man was loosely adapted from The Brothers Karamazov and performed in the streets of the pre-gentrified meat packing district featuring over 60 actors, a 120-foot-long dinner table and a recreation of The Kennedy assassination. Despite his shocking work, Abdoh was praised early on by critics who regularly hailed him a 'theatre auteur' for his 'witheringly accurate' portrayal of American society.
Bogeyman (1991) was one of Abdoh's few productions performed inside a theatre and arguably his most unrelenting. Bogeyman is an exorcism of trauma. Childhood trauma is explored in 'the gay child's relationship to the patriarchy' and the further traumatisation of the adult queer body within the context of Regan's America. 'AIDS Is Subtext' stated critic Sylvie Drake. Bogeyman was written three years after Abdoh's HIV diagnosis, and the reality of living with this death sentence is echoed by the desperately repeated line 'is death fast or slow?' (Katie Dibb)
The Goes Wrong Show: The Lodge (Mischief Theatre Company)
It is not an exaggeration to say that The Goes Wrong Show series has been one of the major things getting me through lockdown. Mischief Theatre is unfailingly able to have audiences keeling over even on the worst days.
Their fourth episode, The Lodge, is quite frankly genius in its judgement of timing. Having 'run short' in rehearsal, the company decides to add extra adjectives to flesh out the performance, they also face mishaps with sound cues, sealed doors, faulty stairlifts and an overeager cast member.
The plot follows David and Emma, a young couple in 1960s England who are viewing an unusual, creepy, old, big, large, blue house. Between their daughter's talk of creepy little girls and the ominous owner, Mr Fortenoy, the couple become rather unsettled. The plot itself is the perfect homage to a classic haunted house tale, but Mischief Theatre has repurposed it into a truly hilarious piece of slapstick comedy.
No matter how many times you watch, you'll always end up crying of laughter each time Dennis, playing a talking deer head, yells his prized line 'GET OUTTTT!'. His misplaced timing is perfect on every occasion, the live audience clearly sharing this sentiment.
Whilst The Lodge is a favourite, every episode of The Goes Wrong Show is incredible, proving that the Mischief company have mastered their comedy genre. (Ella Pennycott)
Watch The Goes Wrong Show on the iPlayer.
Monologue Slam (Persistent and Nasty)
Persistent and Nasty's Creative Quarantine programme is the perfect remedy for theatre-lovers and performers alike, but their Monologue Slam is a personal favourite.
As part of a digital response to the COVID-19 crisis performers were invited by the activism-based initiative to submit a two-minute monologue to be screened online. Split over four videos, the responses are bold, experimental and anything but monotonous. The bare walls the performers sit against become the backdrop for stirring insights on a variety of topics from addiction to arson. Small details jump out throughout each monologue: well-placed pauses, body language and the constant hint at a world beyond the camera stir the imagination. I was impressed with each actors' ability to create suspense or shocking plot twists with a short amount of screen time.
It's interesting to note the focus on memory and storytelling throughout the performances, as these are the cathartic processes we are relying on right now to get through lockdown. Whether a one-sided conversation or a recollection of a traumatic event, many performances tackle themes such as sexual desire, the difference between ambitions and reality and motherhood. Particular stand-outs include Elaine Stirrat's cliff-hanger confession to a love interest, Lorna Masson's Hyperactive Actor, a rhyming monologue which explores the challenge of maintaining your own identity as a performer and Isobella Hubbard's powerful account of sexual violence.
The well-arranged collection is thought-provoking, engaging and a sign of hope for the future of the performing arts in a post-COVID world. (Carolyn Paterson)
Wasted (Southwark Playhouse)
Rock musicals and the Brontë sisters aren't necessarily two things you'd put together, but Southwark Playhouse's Wasted dares to do just that. Directed by Adam Lenson, the show follows Anne, Emily, Charlotte and their brother Branwell as they pursue their dreams of becoming published authors.
The storyline is jam packed with rejection, love affairs, and drug abuse, and documents the struggles the sisters faced as women in the 19th century. While they work as teachers and governesses, their father rents a studio for Branwell to practice painting, even though Charlotte later points out his artwork is terrible. Yet the sisters persist and they each strike a publishing deal for a novel under their pen names.
Despite the busy plot, the first half is a little bit slow, only really gaining traction once the sisters publish an unsuccessful poetry anthology about forty minutes in. But the characterisation is brilliant and each sister has a distinctly different personality: Emily is shy and quirky, Anne is naïve and wistful while Charlotte is determined and motherly. Although they bicker, their love for writing and family spirit brings them together, which is really touching to see.
The music, composed by Christopher Ash with lyrics by Carl Miller, ranges from angry rock songs driven by a heavy drumbeat, to emotional ballads, allowing the actors to show off their versatile skillsets. Their enthusiasm never falters, and the final song is just as energetic and powerful as the first. (Ellen Leslie)
Watch Wasted online now.
Contractions (Deafinitely Theatre)
CW: Abuse, emotional abuse
An adaptation of Mike Bartlett's 2008 Contractions, Deafinitely Theatre triumphs with their bilingual theatre, combining British Sign Language (BSL), spoken word and visual aids, to harrowingly expose the effects of coercive, corporate control.
Set in a site-specific office space, each scene documents Emma's (Abigail Poulton) meetings with Human Resources' 'The Manager' (Fifi Garfield). Fixated on persistent, invasive questioning about the romantic lives of Emma and colleague Darren, The Manager's obsession with their relationship escalates from demonising their one candle-lit dinner to controlling, and ultimately destroying, every single aspect of Emma's life.
Garfield's portrayal of The Manager is sensational, and Artistic Director Paula Garfield's decision to have her communicate almost completely through BSL is particularly refreshing, diverging from the victimisation of deaf people; The Manager is the epitome of narcissism. As each scene passes, Emma moves her chair further away from The Manager, as her physical appearance begins to decline. The extent of abuse can be shown in Emma's repetitive utterance of 'thank you' as she leaves each scene; a display of sadistic gratitude concluding with her dissociation from reality: 'I'm not mad, actually I'm not sure.'
Control is justified through the concept of productivity, commenting more widely on the priorities of corporate machines, glorifying their company policies founded within, and profiting from, the capitalist structure, completely neglecting individual welfare. Paula Garfield's adaptation of Contractions is accessible, depicting how the egoism of those in positions of power can completely control those around them: coercing, abusing and even killing. (Eve Simpson)
What the Butler Saw (Curve Theatre)
CW: Transphobia, rape
From a company that has produced The Importance of Being Earnest, it is baffling as to why Curve Theatre chose to put on What the Butler Saw. The plot stems from a doctor trying to seduce his would-be secretary. From there it feels more dated than Oscar Wilde's farce despite the modern set design (one of its redeeming factors) with its use of R.P accents and antiquated language regarding cross-dressing and sexual assault. Perhaps it is the lack of nuance in Nikolai Foster's direction as the play immediately barrels ahead, starting at a hundred and going nowhere but with lots of shouting that becomes tedious. Maybe it is just the base material provided by Joe Orton. Yes, there are farcical elements in there, classic tropes utilised but it lacks joy. The dialogue spends too long trying to sound smart, coming across pompous rather than humorous. Double-entendres and intricate language can be great, but not if it sacrifices the punchline.
There are glimpses of good performances by the cast with Rufus Hound's Dr Prentice carrying the majority of the almost-slapstick physical comedy and Jasper Britton's turn as Dr. Rance getting moments of self-aware humour. But overall, there is a lack of control which becomes frustrating. Although only running for just over an hour and a half, it feels endless. The plot goes around in uninteresting circles that bases itself in the attempted rape of Mrs. Prentice. The female characters, even unseen ones, are all victims of some form of sexual assault and all in the name of comedy. And this is what the so-called humour of What the Butler Saw stems from; stale, patriarchal views masquerading in the vein of a Carry-On film. (Rebecca McIlroy)
Work_from_home (New Diorama Theatre)
By Nathan Ellis' standards, watching a play is no longer leisure time. Don't worry – it'll be fun, fulfilling, and above all else, productive. The audience are on shift as both actors and spectators in this tricksy, uncannily realistic zoom performance that unpicks our conflicting attitudes to the value of work.
At the command of the chat box, audience members are given the opportunity to nominate themselves to perform as an employee and sent lines to read out. These scenes are bizarrely convincing; stuttery and forcefully animated, volunteers don't sound so different to colleagues you might interact with. The jargony scripts we fall into are already weird and then Zoom makes communication weirder still, prompting people to subconsciously perform to camera.
Each conversation gravitates towards the big office gossip. A social media hotshot called Bill has frozen on screen in a public call. But various stock backdrops flick behind them; a beach, a mountain, the sea. The implication is that, if the backdrop changes, this isn't a technical glitch. Bill might be catatonic.
Thousands of people tune in to watch Bill do nothing. I think of Hester Chillingworth's installation Caretaker, a livestream taking place right now, of silence and stasis in the empty Royal Court Theatre, occasionally interrupted by positive phrases like 'try to be patient' or 'change is coming'. Why do so many people keep watching Caretaker like they're watching Bill? Seeing something cease to function is upsetting. But they aren't just tuning in to see suffering. In some unsettling way, Bill is a comfort. Their dilemma is a signal to us that the treadmill of production isn't working, that it needs to halt and those in charge need to reconsider how our systems run. For a time, that's scary. But it might be what we need to see. (Louisa Doyle)