Last Sunday (20th November 2016) was a marathon day for showcasing female-led theatre. Organised by Sphinx Theatre, Women Centre Space is an annual, all-day event and in the past it has taken place at the National Theatre on London's South Bank. However, this year (after week-long workshops at the The Actor's Centre) it has taken place at Hampstead Theatre, where 100 cast, writers and directors took part.
The day was broken into different seven different programmes – some a standard hour in length, other around the 90 minute mark. Between 4:00 and 5:30pm, the main stage was host to the PRIDE and Prejudice programme – an apt description of a series of short plays performed. The first half (entitled What I Was Told I Could Be And What I've Become) was written and performed by Graeae Theatre, who place deaf and disabled talent centre stage in all their endeavours. All the Graeae plays were directed by Jenny Sealey, and had Jude Mahon and Vikki Gee-Dare as sign language interpreters.
Written by Jackie Hagan and performed Ali Briggs, Kids focused on a grandmother from Liverpool, reminiscing about her younger days – before and after she was married – and what it was like raising a family. The play was funny, yet also very candid about the option and choices women have, then and now.
Written by Karen Featherstone and starring Phillippa Cole, Boys On Bikes looked at growing up as a teenager, and the worries and restrictions imposed by parents on girls, because they don't trust the behaviour of boys. A witty and insightful play that shows the partisan treatment of women begins well before they are adults.
Taharah Azam's character liked watching the soap opera Days Of Our Lives, from which Rosaleen McDonagh's play takes its name. However, as a former citizen of Syria, this is Azam's character's only 'escape' now that she resides in an institution with very little real 'freedom'. The play does a good job of putting the audience in the character's shoes, highlighting the expectations put upon her to have negative opinions of her former homeland, plus the sacrifice others made to make sure she was able to leave with her wheelchair...
Starring Nicki Wildin, Statuesque by Rebekkah Bowsher begins with what initially sounds like a monologue about being touched inappropriately. Then we find out that Bowsher's character is actually a statue and like most Classcal depictions of women, her pubic mound is smoothed over without the requsite details that define her as a woman. In short, she's been short-changed, but she's going to do something about it!
Matilda Ibini's play Single was different from the others in more ways than one. Although Phillippa Cole was the person 'speaking', she was actually supporting Vilma Jackson who was playing a black, deaf woman who was fed up with being stereotyped by all and sundry. Another innovative play whose format and strength lies in its originality.
If the other plays can be likened to movements in music, then Amy Bethan Evans' Klutz can be compared to a recurring melody, interwoven with the other plays. Starring Kellan Frankland, it describes a young woman's ordeal with reporting her missing bag, and the lack of support and suspicion she expects to receive as a woman....
Following a solo drum performace, the second half of PRIDE and Prejudice kicked off with The Nightclub by Chloe Todd Fordham. Directed by Lisa Cagnacci and starring Marlene Sidaway, Nita Mistry, Karlina Grace-Paseda, this play focuses three American women from very different backgrounds who directly (or indirectly) deal with 'coming out' as gay. There's a young woman of Pakistani-heritage who wants to be president, a mother and 'pillar of the community' whose daughter can't stand her, and a 85-year-old widow who has decided she doesn't need to hide her true nature any longer. The play's denouement is unexpected but satisfying, which despite the tragic events offers hope for women, gay or straight.
The final play of the evening, A Perfect Match by Tanika Gupta (which direction by Pooja Ghai) looked at the different expectations of life and love between two generations. Rina Fatania plays a mother of Indian descent who is concerned her grown-up daughter (Chetna Pandya) isn't married and settled like she was at her age. The mother has a neighbour (Nicholas Beveney) who listens to her concerns, while her daughter also has a friend (Endy Mackay) who listens to her about her love life and what exactly she's looking for. At the end of the day, both mother and daughter are entrenched in their 'traditional' versus 'modern' points of view – enough 'pride' and 'prejudice' to go around.
© Michael Davis 2016