FringeReview UK 2021
Grace O’Keefe and Erin Holland comprise Queen of Cups. Here they present ten New Moon Monologues. Individual writers and actors are iterated throughout. Till March 31st then on YouTube permanently.
Queen of Cups are born of a wonderfully off-beat collective of two, Grace O’Keefe and Erin Holland. With seven theatre degrees between them, make no mistake, their YouTube presentation – you can just go and access it now and stop reading – is a very professional product: serious talent, writing and thinking has gone into it.
O’Keefe and Holland have thrown open Queen of Cups to a monthly competition, based round the moon itself – New Moon Monologues. The YouTube’s only 46 minutes, and everything presented pithy, sketch-like or perfectly-formed.
After you’ve finished, you’ll hardly believe this brevity contains the extraordinary riches within. I’ve seen many showcases: none are quite as brilliantly compacted as this. It’s like entering an intricate warehouse where bales of wildly coloured silks suddenly cascade down all around you.
Grace O’Keefe Everything Sucks
O’Keefe herself kicks off with her own double in a neatly edited self-accompaniment after an initial verse. O’Keefe’s song ‘Everything Sucks’ which she accompanies n the guitar is tunefully memorable, pithy, witty scabrously funny and full of other fs too. January 1st should have been a new dawn but three months on Everything Sucks.
O’Keefe bemoans lockdown. Think a young Victoria Wood about to cast a spell or horoscope. There’s less sheer verbal invention than Wood on a hostess trolley – there’s far less time – but O’Keefe’s a highly talented musician too: tuneful, blissfully witty, accomplished and spot-on enough to make you wince.
And sadly it’s over in less than two minutes. It’s a necessary upbeat to what follows. It gives not the faintest clue to the plangent worlds we drop into.
Emily Hindle Run
Written and performed by Emily Hindle is a terrifyingly present evocation of depression, someone frightened of falling on suddenly open metal jaws below an opening ground. Hindle knows where to leave pauses to take in the images, the recurring ‘falling’ motifs and the plunge into what turns out to be a funeral.
Hindle owns a poet’s gift for the arresting image, and exploring something that might seem familiar in a completely fresh way. ‘Black figures sit sombrely in a pew, like chess….’ We find out who her character’s mourning. ‘Feels like a ghost in the throat…’ This can act as a perfectly formed four-and-a-half minute play or as the opening to something else.
Noga Flaishon Seven Years to the Day
Noga Flaishon also performs her own Seven Years to the Day. Her character is commemorating the last time she and her beloved had sex, and she was then posting up a query about body scrubbing, rock-salt and lavender oil.
Because she was keen on scrubbing out every last vestige of her former boyfriend’s defilement. And the skin, that raw scrubbed skin of seven years ago, has in the seven year cycle, vanished. Does pleasure – which doesn’t have to be learnt, she reflects – need re-learning? But fear can regenerate, every time she feels she can let another lover in.
Its not just a new day, or a seven year day. She has a new body. Will she give it a go? A powerful, superbly-composed outfall of plot. Moving on will never be the same again. At a time when violence against women disguises sheer abuse bullying, coercing and just what used to be called Men Behaving Badly, it’s time to call out the shockwaves, just how long they can last.
Elspeth McColl Grazed Knees
Elspeth McColl also performs her Grazed Knees. Contemplating poverty no money for rent, a young woman recalls her childhood scavenging in a youth looking back in rage to her complete subjugation and rejection than the system and her ‘letters and betters‘ consign her to. She could have been so much more.
An eloquent rap-inflected monologue invested by McColl with a fine-ranging as well as raging denunciation of the late capitalist system and its prejudiced, privileged avatars she excoriates with eloquence. McColl, who moves in and out of the character she explores, investing her with a kind of emblematic everywoman feel, skewers liberal sentiment on sympathetic tweets and Facebook. We need this, four minutes of a raging moon.
Aine King Going Back
Performed by Mitra Djalili, Aine King’s Going Back explores the pain of migration, separation, and loss. A child’s born in 1974 because her Irish mother doesn’t take up the bed prepared for her by the catholic community, the couple anxious to adopt.
But this accidental migration fills with a language the child doesn’t know, but an address she knows by heart. And two accents, for home and school, a forked tongue.
Growing up too quickly the young woman performs one last but for her life-changing promise.
A poignant, beautifully crafted twist on exile and accident, accent and inheritance.
Ayshe-Mira Yashin The Sun is Rising in Grantchester Meadows
Ayshe-Mira Yashin performs – outdoors – her own poem The Sun is Rising in Grantchester Meadows, a meditation on loss, casting, a new separation. The title performs a litany and cantus firmus as well as riffing with just a touch of asperity on the floppy-haired heritage of Rupert Brooke. Though in fairness he’d not have minded joints, LGBT love, a lost and found wallet, ‘the last orgasm you gave me in J-Wick’.
The poem darkens in rejection – ‘if I wasn’t in therapy I think that by now I’d have filled silver-lidded bottles with my tears/and sent them to you like ottoman lovers.’ The ground bass of that long line keeps churning like an obsession, a denunciation for all sweet things.
There’s wonderful erotic directness, more direct than that quoted above. In essence an anaphora-driven lament, simple and strophic with some arresting images, it memorably places heartbreak and gripping sexual desire within the pale of Cambridge, ‘that strange cackling little town’ as William Empson wrote on banishment from it.
Those of us who broke our own hearts there will recall how bleak the world is for the newly solitary outside its line of festal lights, how scant emotional literacy still is, how keen the discriminations for any kind of outsider. The flaw of early March snatches at Yashin’s splendid notebook as she reads. Perfect weather. This is the kind of poem that should be read there by everyone. It’s for everyone.
Jamie Lakritz Amissa
We’re in Perugia for eleven minutes. Meryl Griffiths performs Jamie Lakritz’s Amissa. ‘It was her tattoo and my knickers that made me notice her…’ The murder Mereith Kirscher is briefly touched on, what this city’s famed for, rather than the festival in swing as Griffiths embarks on her character’s new widowhood.
Amissa she notes is Latin for a cry for help. But when it’s Amisssa who rescues from the embarrassing situation of tucking her dress into her knickers and vanishes. When she next sees her she feels she’s in need of protection. Meredith need protection. The character childless and missing her husband too – he’d died just before a liberating tour – develops an obsession. ’Quite by chance’ always bumping into Amissa.
She tries to replicate that first meeting. The end is harrowing, a meditation on loss, utter solitude – twelve years of it – and desolation. ‘I forgot how to stop being alone. She helped me to remember.’ And there’s a final, singular act of affirmation.
The red-dressed Griffiths performs this in a vivid measured delivery in a beautifully filmed environment, roses against a dove-grey backdrop.
Jenet Le Lacheur But Two Months Dead
Jenet Le Lacheur preforms her own brief But Two Months Dead. ‘She seems much better now, that I’m two months gone… of course I was gone much earlier.’ It’s the ghost narrating, full of Shakespearean saws, from The Tempest too as the deceased meditates on her living daughter’s sexual choices. It’s a poetic twist on bereavement, the ghost not the child feeling the grief of separation.
Bianca Watkins Plan B
Bianca Watkins performs her Plan B outside in an autumnal park, leaning against a bark, then ingeniously cut in other places, including indoors. ‘We cannot begin again. We’re so close to an end. An irreversible irretrievable end.’ There a re children clasping sings ‘There is no Planet B’. ‘Let me begin again.’ This is a refrain, a rewind, an environmental scientist. The ‘let me begin again’ hurls us each time into a new litany. into a wholly new location.
This is a Green activist, no not the peace-and-water Extinction Rebellion kind, but one who’s read for instance Andreas Malm’s new polemic How to Blow Up a Pipeline. Being handcuffed raw would bring tears of joy.
Yet we don’t stay quite there just contemplating radical acts, as this stunningly-shot dizzyingly-located film shows – almost overwhelming the verbal content in a little over four minutes.
It ends quite abruptly because there can be no fade; everything’s been said with pithy raw imaging. Even sending a letter is an act of ecotage, ‘I send you a letter, you receive a brick.’ Watkins gnaws her own hands.
Lorna O’Dea Smile
Nicole Botha performs Lorna O’Dea’s Smile ‘Crawling out of our cages towards the end of what will feel like an age…’ returns us to post-lockdown, where O’Keefe started. A meditation on what we’ve not done, or tried over the past year, or what we’d like to do, it’s a monologue for age’s turning.
Botha’s character wants us to stop meditate and indeed smile. A paean for optimism and full of wise heart, it’s a fit upbeat epilogue to an exhilarating showcase.
Though some of the works fitted the brief, O’Keefe and Hollland have allowed themselves to be inclusive, embracing things which despite the theme of beginning again, occasionally refuse to: despite the authors’ intentions. That too is part of the truth of renewal.
It’s absurd this work isn’t trumpeted abroad – production values are never less than professional, in chime with the complete assurance of the acting. But often they’re much more than that, occasionally we’ve seen complete short films. Ultimately though there are some pieces fit for performance anywhere, on any stage. Don’t be lulled by the friendly colours and fluffy fonts. Queen of Cups is absolutely a company to watch, and its showcase productions are literally unmissable, on YouTube. Just click.