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Brighton Fringe 2024

Low Down

Sam Chittenden and Fenia Gianni create, direct and perform Women’s Writes at SweetVenues, The Yellow Book, Brighton till May 25th.

We’ve been lucky to sit in on the first stage of a very promising conversation collaboration, and theatre piece.

Co-Directors and Dramatists Sam Chittenden, Fenia Gianni, Light Designer JD Henshaw.  Producers Sam Chittenden and Fenia Gianni (Tríada Productions).

Voiceover credits Sam Chittenden and John Newcombe.

Till May 25th


Two women writing, a web of stories; a listener, perhaps someone more than that as the other produces an anaphora of frustration, impossible parenting, desire and abuse. It’s a curiously active space too as the listener holds stories of her own. But does the other hear them? Sam Chittenden and Fenia Gianni create, direct and perform Women’s Writes at SweetVenues, The Yellow Book, Brighton till May 25th.

This newly curated space has been as it were christened by Gianni’s Tríada Theatre in Annie Baker’s Circle, Mirror, Transformation in its first run back in April. The deep stage, really an alcove, can strip back to in-depth reveals, but today it’s shrouded in black curtains as a miniature cave of making.

Light design’s by SweetVenues Artistic Director J.D. Henshaw, the show curated by the theatres both women helm: A Different Theatre, and Tríada Theatre.

The actors step out. Indeed Chittenden stays mostly outside the space, perched on a chair, looking kindly but quizzical. Gianni moves within the space, outside it, is often subject to red lights, an interiority Chittenden eschews. With her it’s clear day bathed in impersonal, indeed Apollonic white light. Gianni’s subject to Dionysian rage. But even here attaching phallocentrically-realised gods is an indulgence.

Chittenden’s in fact reading extracts of her first novel, Meantime. An award-winning theatre-maker and playwright, you expect any story to compel. What Chittenden does however is read teasing extracts where you make the connections: reading the complete work by flashes of lightning. There’s a coherence to be tantalised by.

In contrast Gianni’s narrative Her Shadow is all of a piece. Gianni’s character is plagued first by a perfect mother. Perfect even down to her model figure, a persecutory character who mimics her daughter’s clothes, expressions and lifestyle on occasion; so all the daughter’s friends think she’s so cool. It’s a birth-to-maturity piece at least up to the age of 28.

Gianni deploys a litany of anaphoric phrases, like verse, at key emotive points as her character does the perfect thing expected of her. Which means to suffer her way through scholarships and away from Greece, only to return and play – deliciously rendered – how to pick up a man you desire without letting anyone know you’re doing it, save your best friend. “It’s the game” Gianni’s character acknowledges.

However love and attraction can turn coercive and soon Gianni explores ways out. All this alternates with Chittenden, whose pieces are pithier.

If Gianni’s the subject, even the analysand, repeating “sorry” as if her narrative has overstepped some invisible boundary, Chittenden’s Meantime is both coolly impersonal and compelling. The narrative’s mostly in third person, we’re given snippets. A Brittany farmhouse November 1812 where a woman gives birth with the aid of a midwife; already 42 with her husband (briefly invoked) on the Napoleonic Russian front. Then there’s news back.

Another strand of Meantime‘s narrative, echoing Gianni’s Her Shadow, is of a woman just before total lockdown in March 2020 fleeing her abusive controlling partner for France, indeed Brittany.

Yet another, a verbatim short story Unhinged, is a droll account by a woman surfing on a dating app: comedic male responses, catch-ups and sheer male idiocy abound in every line. Enjoying a completely different idiom and register, it naturally garners most of the laughs. Connections are implicit. Chittenden reads some fine short poems too, woven into the narrative.

A rapt 90 minutes where two consummate theatre-makers, both with their own companies, unite for a creative colloquy. . Using intimate, experimental storytelling in different genres, this collaboration intensifies witness and invites empathy to explore themes of mental distress, abuse and coercive control.

It’s tantalising, certainly a compellingly-crafted conversation. Ultimately, we’ve been lucky to sit in on the first stage of a very promising collaboration, and theatre piece.