Brighton Fringe 2011
A one act, hour long play for two women actors; devised, written and produced by those two same women – exploring the themes of fantasy, desire, notions of gender identity, and the complex inner and outer worlds of female sexuality; and in the words of the script, “shakin’ off the feminine”. The piece uses recorded music; sparse scenery, props, costume and lighting; and two characters – to tell an intriguing and intelligent (if rather obscure) story through words, physicality and movement.
This piece is definitely not about creative stage design, although the simple costumes and props work well: the acting and the script and are what this performance is about. The design is rudimentary and perfunctory: a chair, a table, an old telephone, bags, a hanging rail with the few items of unremarkable costume used in the play; and the props most used – cigarettes and a bottle of gin. In fact, I’ve never seen so much fake smoking in a play… a bit overdone perhaps?
There is a very languid energy to the piece; a soft mood – echoing femininity; a sultry, sexy pace and feel.
The script is good, the dialogue convincing (except for the odd moment when the acting felt distinctly like awkward spontaneous improvisation, rather than well-rehearsed scripted dialogue), and the storytelling engaging and often humorous. Not in a laugh out loud kind of way, but in a quietly smiling to yourself kind of way as you recognise the stereotypes, the Hollywood myths we are all imprisoned by, and the ridiculousness of our own very personal and specific desires. The themes explored here are nothing new. In the world of fringe theatre, they have surely been wheeled out a million times.
Very worthy themes: gender, stereotypes, identity, Freudian style psychology, blah blah blah. But this company explores and presents their thoughts and ideas well. I felt I knew what they were trying to say. I felt I was with them on their journey of exploration, and that somehow I had been invited to take part in their fantasy – dark and silly though it variantly may have been.
I found the lighting a little obtrusive at times. While the favouring of a shadowy, brooding light may have added to the otherworldly-innerworldly feel of the play, it felt a little overdone; and I wondered if the lighting changes were a little clumsily choreographed, as they seemed to detract rather than add to the performances. When I’m engaged in an actor speaking, then I wish to remain engaged with an actor speaking – a lighting change can jolt me out of my engagement for the wrong reasons.
The best thing about this show was Amanda Price’s weirdly convincing characterisation of ‘Frank’, the man at the centre of this secret fantasy played out in front of us. The performances of both actors however were entirely competent, committed and most of all – brave (the audience are subjected to the longest and most hideous on-stage female orgasm I’ve ever seen…) but neither of the actors had a full grasp on the American accents they were adopting in their story within a story, and the accents slipped badly at several points. They kind of get away with it though, because these are characters playing characters. And ironically, though music and songs was supposed to be such a key element of the piece, I felt that the performances lacked ‘musicality’. There was a scene where the two actors click their fingers through a piece of text which seems to echo a kind of Tom Waits type song (his music is used to good effect in the sound track) and the actors recite the lines as though they are speak-singing the lines of a song. This really lacked committed rhythm, cadences and style.
The work of these actors and theatre practitioners (both women are senior university lecturers in Theatre; it shows), intended to have “an emphasis placed upon the performers’ bodies as a site of experimentation and transformation” (as stated on the Famous & Divine website). This is certainly a worthy and interesting intent for exploration and experiment in theatre but I’m not convinced it was fulfilled. There is a slight venture into the rudiments of dance, but I would love to have seen so much more. What is the point of exploring this kind of physicality when it is only slightly ventured in to? Such a piece as this could well afford to delve much, much deeper into this area of performance style.
It seems to me that these actors, and Amanda Price in particular, are very talented in terms of their physicality – not to mention their clear fearlessness when it come to exploring what borders on the dangerous. I’m glad these brave, intellectual, and deep-thinking women are making theatre. I hope they use their talents in the exploration of theme through movement much more in their next piece of work.