Portrait of a Lady on Fire

Photograph: Cannes Film Festival

Set in France in the late 18th Century ‘Portrait On A Lady on Fire’, is a progressive period drama about a solo female artist named Marrianne, who is commissioned to complete a wedding portrait of Héloïse, against her knowledge. In this wonderfully feminist piece the four main parts are women, with the addition of Héloïse’s mother the countess and her maid Sophie. The film is ultimately a discussion of the female gaze, a woman being painted by a woman, who also gazes upon the painter, both constantly under scrutiny. The male absence in the film is glaring and yet the female oppression is loud; it is in Marianne’s need to paint in her father’s name as well as Héloïse’s arranged marriage. Throughout the film Héloïse, Marrianne and Sophie the maid, form a kind of sisterhood like that seen Mustang, coming together through difficulty.

It is a heartbreaking and beautiful LGBTQ film. 9/10.

Viewed on MUBI.

The Dirty Thirty by Degenerate Fox

06.03.2020

Attending Degenerate Fox’s International women’s day piece at the Rosebranch Theatre, a member of the cast on the ticket booth chewing gum and shouting us in, set the tone for this less than usual production. Thirty, two minute pieces, the order of which is decided by the audience who are reading the plays off a ‘menu’. The pieces begin with the cast shouting ‘go’ and close with ‘curtain’. Asking the sound man if he is ready, shouting that they need certain props between pieces, there is no fourth wall in this chaotic piece. In this international women’s day special they focussed on a range of mini pieces, performed by it’s LGBTQ international cast. My favourite pieces were ones which focussed on trans issues such as the piece: ‘What we think of TERF’s’ where a TERF is represented by a glass of water which they treat as if it is infected before one of the cast member reluctantly edged towards the glass and chucked it through the door. Similarly, when discussing how it feels to be labelled something you are not, their cast member Jack held up a sign saying ‘woman’ and awkwardly tried to put it down a few times before reluctantly holding it and faking a smile. The piece was insightful and informative and the wide scope of the content reflected the diverse cast, covering broad topics such as sexual assault in Latin America, to listing inspirational women we might not have heard of. I’d love to see how their usual show compares to the factual nature of this piece. Admittedly, if you’re looking for high quality theatre, this isn’t it – the talent of the cast varies from what appears obviously trained actors to seemingly happy volunteers- but what it does provide is a fun show brimming with inclusivity. The cast could work on their conviction on delivery if they did wish to elevate this to a serious piece of theatre, however, I imagine as this was a special it may have been put together very quickly. I can see this company at festivals or as a fun, more boozy night out. If you are member of the LGBTQ community this company are ones to watch!

Drop Dead Gorgeous @ VAULT Festival by the SAME SAME Collective

01.02.2020

Drop Dead Gorgeous is a darkly comic exploration of femininity and appetite by four women from the UK, India and Taiwan. The performance lies somewhere between a dance and performance art, with no dialogue whatsoever, as a table bearing fruit forms the centre piece of the action. In that sense Drop Dead Gorgeous is a visual discussion of femininity and its conflict with appetite, presenting a form of hunger I can certainly relate to.

The piece as a satire...

The piece successfully presents a comedic criticism of the universal tropes of femininity through both action and staging. Beginning with just the spotlight lit table, in a brief moment where the lights go out, the women hidden underneath the table appeared seemingly from nowhere. This felt indicative of the idea of women being ‘seen but not heard’ as they appear noiselessly, a trope which was continued throughout the piece, broken only by the occasional graceful sigh performed in unison. The set design was mostly beautiful, a pure white table cloth laid with colourful fruit, stood on pure white flooring. This perfection was mirrored in the women both in costume design, as they stood in their neat matching floral dresses and in accuracy of movement as their dance was timed to perfection. They appeared serene, controlled and delicate to the point of being comedic. Gradually they incorporated the fruit, beginning by gracefully selecting a grape each and including it in the routine. However, as the interaction with the fruit increased the unison of their movement began to break, first by selecting differing fruits, before comedically stuffing their faces until finally the piece digressed into a kind of animalistic feeding ground. They hoarded fruit, stole from one another and devoured all in sight. In this sense food acts as a means through which women cannot appear delicate and faultless.

The Set and how it supported the critique

The piece was performed in-the-round with audiences on all sides amplifying the sense in which the women were on show. Even when they did enact their appetitive desires, the majority of this was done under the long dangling cloth served as a mask to their eating. By the time they divulged into pure animalistic behaviour the table had visually broken into quarters, providing a symbolism of their societal mask slipping, revealing expectations of female bodies as idealistic.

If I had to moan…
My only real complaint was that it was so short. I would’ve loved for them to have taken this further.

The Same Same Collective are ones to watch for multi-cultural political performance art. I found Drop Dead Gorgeous a laugh out loud piece; current and thought provoking it is in tune with works such as ‘Women Don’t Owe You Pretty’. To catch them again they will be back at the London Vault festival on the 15th of February.

Girl from the North Country @Gielgud Theatre

11.01.2020

The musical that doesn’t feel like one.

Accompanying my mum to Girl from the North Country on the basis that it ‘has Bob Dylan music in it’, I had no preconceptions as to what it would be like and even though I knew it had been well received, I was taken aback by the ingenuity of the piece. GFTNC is categorised as a musical so predictably music is a central component, however it felt more like a kitchen sink drama come concert in comparison to thoroughgoing musicals such as Come From Away. Set in an American guesthouse in 1934, the play concerns itself with family issues; infidelity, illness and finance consume the plot. Within this the music acts as a kind of melancholic soundtrack, distinct from yet descriptive of the scenes. The most thorough performance came from Katie Brayben who played Elizabeth Laine, the mentally ill wife of the house owner. She convincingly inhabited the illness both in its comedic and frightening moments. Gloria Obianyo who played Marianne stood out as the best vocalist, as her soulful voice was more like a blues artist than your typical west-end performer.

The Set Design reflected its genre.

The design of the set was both naturalistic and abstract. The band was present throughout the show positioned upstage right, always in view but separate from the scenes amplifying the intrusion of the music into what, in terms of writing, could have been an ordinary play. A piano, downstage right appeared naturalistic and was used throughout the scenes mostly by Elizabeth while a drum kit, downstage left was visually out of place and was used solely as an instrument throughout the songs. It too was played by the actors (rather than members of the band) but this only brought you further away from the action, as it was so unusual to see members of the cast featuring in the musicianship. Similarly, ordinary guest house furniture such as a table and chairs and a kitchen sink were in keeping with the naturalistic script, however the spacing gave it an abstract feel as elements of the set, such as the sink, were rarely interacted with and acted more as ornaments. The most unique thing about the set, however, was the large screen revealed a third of the way into the production, which displayed an image of the nearby lake. It is unclear if this was supposed to be a modernistic representation of a window but as it was only introduced later in the production and occasionally it would show a laneway rather than the lake, I assume not. I think the purpose was to enable you to grasp the setting in a way which was going to juxtapose the naturalism, to distance you further from the scenes but more than that its purpose was to provide a backlight so that during the vocal numbers, members of the cast could stand close to screen and be mere silhouettes. It was thrilling to watch.

A genius piece so much more than an ode to Bob Dylan.

9/10

Women Aren̶t̶ Funny- PLUG IN GIRLS

@The Albany, London 9.01.2019

Women Aren̶’̶t̶ Funny, is a diverse night presenting the best in comedy and dramatic monologue. The acts were distinct but also unified by both a colloquial Britishness, which was headed by its Geordie host Ellen Lilley, as well as the shared themes of sex, ethnicity and mental health. The night’s name is indicative of female artists’ struggle in a predominately male industry as well as providing a satire of the stereotype that ‘women aren’t funny’.

The strongest performance came from Jenan Younis a woman of Assyrian heritage raised in Surrey. Much of her performance focused on what it was like growing up in a largely white middle class area with middle eastern heritage. She comically listed the dichotomies between herself and racial stereotypes, Christian not Muslim, calm not passionate and explored everyday racism. Her piece went on to discuss Stacey Dooley’s Iraq documentary and hilariously attacked her inability to speak grammatically correct English (which has always been a peeve of mine). Reading off extracts from her book ‘Women *what* fight back’ in Stacey’s thick Essex accent, she (I hope) filled grammatically correct words with incorrect ones in order to make mock Dooley’s usually horrendous use of English. Her piece was witty, insightful and creative and therefore it is no surprise that she has already been nominated for the BBC New Comedy award. She is one to watch.

The line-up as a whole was brimming with talent with all acts bringing a unique voice. Alex Bertulis-Fernandes’ set was very dark humoured- not my cup of tea but can definitely see doing well- and Lavinia Carpentieri’s performed a hilarious monologue about needing a shit on the way to work. Weaker performances of the night were due to lack of conviction or stage presence rather than weak content or writing. One of the best things about Jenan was her calm presence on stage while other performers had the tendency to jump erratically between jokes, touch their hair or fiddle with clothing which is not only distracting but also unprofessional. I’d suggest working on delivery and presence because all the acts were brilliant in content.

As a regular attendee of Covent Garden’s Top Secret Comedy Club I believe this show has the ability to be as big, as it presents real talent in a fun atmosphere. I’d say to the organisers to aim for bigger venues and higher frequency and it could soon replace other comedy nights which consistently support male over female talent.

The night was a lot of fun but more than anything succeeded in proving that women are funny! Where do I sign up?

Rosa @ The Courtyard Theatre

Rosa is a one woman show about a woman (named Rosa) who fixates on her ability to control time throughout the day, causing her to fear sleep. The script follows her neurotic daily routine in a convincing but also bizarre manner.

Things I liked about this piece…

Committed characterisation- I found Carlota Arencibia a thoroughly committed actress, never slipping in her characterisation even during the comedic moments. The piece had already started from the moment the audience entered, which was a clever way of amplifying the realism of the piece. We really had walked into the room of a mad woman. Movement was a key and clever part of Carlota’s performance, mostly to embody the time she was fixated on, as well as to physicalise Rosa’s desire for control. This added to the thoroughness of the characterisation as well as the comedy of the piece. Most of the comedy, however, came from the quirks of Rosa’s daily routine such as her morning wee which was done on stage into a plant pot, using a water pouch tucked into her knickers. Other absurd moments included her morning cup of coffee, which was poured over her face, her exercises, which included putting match sticks in her eyes, as well as the period she spends rubbing her clit, a small pillow attached to her knickers. All these elements made for a convincing and funny portrayal of her neurotic character but also were evidence of what an incredible piece of writing Rosa is.

Set Design- This is the most fully realised set I’ve seen in a small scale production this year. It was made up of white painted wooden panelling which formed the three walls to the room. The white fresh paint was reminiscent of a mental asylum but the wood complicated this, making it feel more like a painter and decorator set or even a heavenly garden. The idea of it being a painter and decorator set was heightened by the roll-on paint brush which stood propped up on the wall throughout the piece, as well as the white linen flooring. This not-quite-finished state of the set nicely amplifies the sense of being stuck in time, much like Rosa. The set also mirrored her desire for balance, with props tending to come in equal numbers and there being only one stand out colour, red. The only sense of imbalance came from the roll on brush which looked as though it could have been left accidentally, cleverly highlighting the scene’s artificiality, much like her own sense of control.

If I had to moan…

This is a naturally difficult piece to critique due to its originality. However, I think to not lose sight of diction would be a good point to make, as parts of the performance were lost in the zig zagging of content. While the fast paced speech was obviously a deliberate characterisation choice, I think too much was missed at times.

The silent Mrs Coffman, the person Rosa speaks to throughout, was an unclear concept. Who is she? Do we know? Should we care? I found myself straddling the ideas that: Mrs Coffman was imaginary, Mrs Coffman was a psychiatrist, Mrs Coffman is whoever the audience want her to be. I think whether or not Mrs Coffman is supposed to be anything particular or not, it needs to be stated clearer as I found my attempt to grasp it distracting and spent half the piece worrying I’d missed the answer.

Finally, I would’ve liked to have seen Carlota go further in Rosa’s moments of fear, to elevate the contrast with the mostly lighthearted tone of the production.

Overall, this was an incredibly well written, performed and managed piece which I would highly recommend for anyone seeking something slightly unconventional. I wish this production the best of luck going forward and I have no doubt they will do well. Carlota is a real force.

Trouble @ The Chapel Playhouse

18.09.19.

Lizzie Annis’ ‘Trouble’, is a linguistically powerful and genuinely moving depiction of a night out from the perspective of a woman with Cerebral palsy.

It is both familiar and enlightening as it comments on sleazy men, social awkwardness, friendship and dating but from the perspective of someone with a disability. The piece was both hilarious and heartbreaking in one short half an hour sitting as it gives light to both the complexities but also humour which derives from the social repercussions of having a disability.

What I loved…

The language. The entire piece was written as essentially, one long poem with a rhyming scheme running throughout. It was cleverly paced, colloquial yet elevated with clever use of imagery throughout so that no set or props were required. I was struck by what an incredible piece of writing it was.

Multi-Role.

Throughout the piece, Lizzie embodies the people she interacts with simply by changing the tone of her voice and movement. I found this a lovely way of making a simple piece more powerful. She does a really good job of showing how sometimes less is more.

If I had to moan…

This is a really difficult piece to criticise as I genuinely loved it however, I felt some of the transition in her multiple-role playing could have been sharpened. At times it wasn’t entirely obvious who was speaking or which character she was embodying. Therefore I would say simply to focus on sharpening the tone and movement at all times, to avoid blurring the characters.

Overall however, I found this to be a really clever and contemporary piece of feminist theatre. We need more like this.

DUMPED @ Camdens People’s Theatre

Beyonce made Lemonade – Emily Howarth made DUMPED.

A brutally honest, funny and witty piece.

Describing itself as a ‘one woman musical comedy shit storm’ DUMPED is not your conventional piece of theatre. The mish-mash of genres become a clever structural embodiment of the mild hysteria recognisable in a break up – disjointed and fluctuating you’re never quite sure if you should be laughing or crying. This piece definitely doesn’t know what it is, as it see-saws from theatre to stand-up, from an intimate gig to karaoke session. Whether it was the creator’s intention or not the piece feels utterly confused but that’s the brilliance of it, because who the hell isn’t confused when they are dumped right?

It’s genuinely interesting from a musical standpoint.
As the entire piece is mostly built around an analysis of music’s break-up genre- with the occasional interruption from voice memos- this is definitely a piece that would interest someone from a musical standpoint. Probably the most significant musical aspect in this piece, unsurprisingly is Emily’s own singing. Firstly may I add Emily can really SANG and her singing offers poignancy amidst her otherwise wacky routine. However, strangely at points it does turn into a bit of a music history lesson and I found her in depth chats about Fleetwood Mac and Adele genuinely interesting and entirely relevant.

It’s raw.
DUMPED certainly doesn’t shy away from honesty or ugliness. It lays all the cards on the table or in this case, voice memos baring fully the soul of a broken heart. But we are living in the age of honesty right? and stuff like this is important. It serves as a great reflection on heartbreak, grief and femininity even if it makes you want to go home and cry about all the break-up emotions you thought you’d suppressed.

If I had to moan..

This is probably a matter of personal opinion but I’m not a huge fan of comedians laughing at themselves as it can come off amateurish. Similarly with the dance pieces if Emily could do them with conviction without bashing herself after or even during, they’d be even funnier. Embrace the awkward bones they’re the best bits.

If you love to laugh… and cry this is one to watch.

My rating 6.5/10