FringeReview UK 2023
Essential theatre. Five singer-actors, memorably punchy music, witty and heartbreaking – most of all groundbreaking – storytelling. 90 minutes of this and you’ll know just what to do with the patriarchy.
DIRECTOR, Celine Lowenthal, PRODUCER Emma Blackman, CO-WRITER/
COMPOSER/CO-MUSICAL DIRECTOR Lilly Pollard, CO-WRITER Joel Samuels, CO-MUSICAL DIRECTOR Anya Pearson, ASSOCIATE PRODUCER Josephine Shipp, SOUND DESIGNER Lucy Baker Swinburn, SOUND OPERATOR Raffaela Pancucci, LIGHTING DESIGNER Martha Godfrey, SET & COSTUME DESIGNER Ruth Badila,
PRODUCTION MANAGER Misha Mah, COMPANY STAGE MANAGER Summer Keeling, ASSISTANT DIRECTOR Olivia Millar-Ross, SOCIAL MEDIA MARKETING Millie Whittam, MARKETING CONSULTANTS Emma Martin Arts Marketing, PR CONSULTANT Chloe Nelkin Consulting
Featuring original music inspired by Riot Grrrl bands, such as Bikini Kill, Le Tigre, Veruca Salt and Letters to Cleo.
Till April 22nd
“Fuck the patriarchy!” Good to start at the end, where Sugar Coat’s band shouts joyously in this 2019 show, composed by Lilly Pollard and co-written by her and Joel Samuels, now revived at the Southwark Little directed by Celine Lowenthal. Several performers like co-musical director Anya Pearson return too.
So trauma, depression, bodily anxiety and sheer solitude mightn’t strike one as reasons to be joyous, but it really is. It’s a work with five women and non-binary actors, narrated front and centre – and mostly sung – by Dani Heron relating what happens to women’s bodies: their autonomy, relationships and friendships, sexuality, physical dysfunction and its reasons, teen confusion and pregnancy. Natural issues it should now be easy to discuss. But – this is the patriarchy. Though people are invited to leave and return if they feel disturbed, no-one does.
So how does a sexually liberated 16-year-old become traumatised, repressed, unable to form relationships or even countenance sex? It’s not just one reason, nor the most obvious, that’s a trigger in what in fact is based on a true story of “love, loss and lubrication”. But more importantly, it’s how through several others a young woman finds herself again, works through healing, touching, tentatively exploring her body with others; there’s no simple moment of reconnection.
Brought up by a single mother in a loving, supportive environment there’s no intergenerational tensions here. Heron’s academically bright, sex-loving teen is ready for sex long before her boyfriend Dean who’s waiting for a sign. “More of a sign than me saying let’s fuck?” Still after a year she can’t resist the “beautiful boy” and it’s not just Dean she loses, but in the subsequent pregnancy, where she decides to keep the baby, there’s consequences compounded at university that leave Heron’s character dried out.
It’s been harrowing and Heron wrenches words out of herself. “I don’t know when personhood starts… I don’t give a fuck… all I know is I had a connection to that growing inside me”.
Despite “nailing my degree” and gaining a Masters in Bio-Chemistry, Heron conveys the withdrawn, snappy, solitary figure so different that her schoolfriends (with whom she formed a dire band) no longer recognise her. Her uni room-mates simply get used to this affable solitary, with a disdaining cat, the “Catmobile”.
But at another party she meets Dean by chance, all affability and hooked up, then the enchanting Cat, whom for the first time she’s attracted to. Oh, Cat happens to be with her boyfriend Gaz. That’s less of a problem than you’d think. Are they weird, or her salvation? And at her mother’s suggestion Heron’s now 23-year-old goes to a therapist, who’s more than happy that Gaz and Cat are on the scene.
That’s as much of the story without spoilers I can give. But It’s worth outlining that far, because it’s clearly no conventional one, and the solutions are both unexpected and ongoing. Not to mention this is a real narrative, given to Samuels by someone who wanted their truth told. It’s different to anything you’ve ever heard. And it’s not a musical, not a straight play (certainly not that) but a hybrid refracted through a punk band that knows what the patriarchy’s for.
In both school band and uni mates the other four take on a quartet of voices. More definably, they emerge as strong character actors, often very funny. Sarah Workman’s Dean and socialist agitator, Anya Pearson’s “beautiful boy”, and Gaz, contrasting types of men, as well as fleeting non-binary roles. Rachel Barnes as mother, “lovely lesbian” flatmate, and equally a gentle counsellor, in both giving off a soft, wry and touching guidance.
Eve de leon Allen who at just one point takes over the singing giving Heron a brief break, reveals a plangent vocal lyricism and after a stint as the “nice girl” flatmate, really blossoms as Cat. Finally Heron with head-banging brio and laconic delivery, is the blazing heart of this production. Her registers of sassy comedy and loss, of sexiness and numbed withdrawal, vulnerability and raucous humour, nail – as her character puts it – an unforgettable Everywoman.
Pollard’s music is often memorable too. Martha Godfrey’s lighting works with panache especially the Sugar Coat wording itself, chameleon to the end. Ruth Badila’s often mauve costumes mix slinky contemporary with a nod to 80s punk with that mauve effect on dungarees on Heron and Barnes. The black and pink set itself throbs out of a teen bedroom with clothes and LPs spilling out of it, ready to combust with joy and sorrow as the band position themselves.
My only quibble is with the sound design in this particular space. The highly-experienced Lucy Baker Swinburn isn’t one to allow such a blunted impact, but it was difficult to make out the lyrics (even in the front row) and one can only think the Southwark Little’s acoustics are different to the original production.
This is essential theatre. Everything, bar that one caveat, scores. Five singer-actors, memorably punchy music, witty and heartbreaking – most of all groundbreaking – storytelling. 90 minutes of this and you’ll know just what to do with the patriarchy yourselves.