Beautiful Little Fools, The Cockpit Theatre – Review

Sometimes facts are stranger than fiction. Approximately a week ago, the newspapers were filled with stories about a young British woman was kidnapped and locked away in a suitcase. How could such a thing happen in this day and age? What does say about that women are truly ‘valued’? Bridging the cap between fantasy and reality, Optic Theatre’s Beautiful Little Fools (which is written by Jemma Burgess and directed by Anna Marshall) focuses on four young women who find themselves in a dark room with no apparent exit. More frightenng for the women is the fact that most of them have no recollection of how they got there and that the red tags on their ankles delivers electric shocks…

The group are subjected repeatedly to snippets of real broadcasts, warning against the radicalisation of women – the enemy from within. The women, however, with their different temperaments spend just as much time and energy arguing with each other as they do shouting at their unseen captor. Instead of being able to use their real names, the women’s identities are stripped away, replaced by letters of the alphabet.

BeautifulLittleFools-2Isobel Goldby-Briggs plays ‘C’, a God-fearing young woman who generally abides by the rules and as she’s being punished, internalises the blame. Jemma Burgess’ ‘A’ couldn’t be more different. Not afraid to vent her feelings, she rallies against the injustice of the situation and their jailer, whose authority she doesn’t recognise. She’s also has no time for religion, thinking it’s a waste of time to give a second thought to a God that obviously isn’t present in the world that’s gone to hell.

On the surface, Jessica Collins’ ‘B’ is similar to ‘A’ with her outspoken views and fearless temperament. However, she (at least to begin with) is the most erratic of the three, revelling in the chaos, rather than being genuinely angry at their lot. She’s also the only one who’s learnt that just like T.E. Lawrence, the way to build a resistance to pain is not mind it hurting. In arguably the funniest scene of the play, ‘B’ repeatedly gives the sleeping ‘A’ an electric shock by placing her own leg in contact with her and deliberately goading their captor into punishing her. Of course, the willingness to inflict pain on others has all the bearings of the famous Milgram experiment and a foreshadowing of later events in the play…

The arrival of ‘D’ (Sophia Hannides) ‘unbalances’ the ‘equilibrium’ of the gathering, as it becomes very obvious how different she is from the others. Unlike the others, ‘D’ has some recollection of the world and that she’s there of her own volition. She also throws into question how bad their situation is by suggesting that the outside world is so much worse. If, on the surface, ‘D’ appears to be favoured, the periodic scans reveal that her uncluttered, independent mind marks her down as ‘unclean’…

BeautifulLittleFools-1Beautiful Little Fools itself can interpreted in many different ways and all of them would be equally true and valid. While there is an element of Sartre’s “Hell is other people”, the dystopian reality of the play can be seen as a metaphor for what women are undergoing or the natural culmination of erosion of women’s rights by the likes of the Trump administration. The use of Margaret Thatcher’s rendition of the St Francis prayer “Where there is discord, may we bring harmony. Where there is error, may we bring truth…” is a reminder of the perversion of truth here and the discrepancy of words versus reality. In this Orwellian world, black equals white, freedom is slavery, ignorance is strength… Certainly as seen in today’s society, the play shows the powers-that-be instigating division through misinformation and duress, averting blame and scrutiny from themselves.

While the play has plenty of scenes of tension and conflict, it does have its quieter moments, which perhaps allude to the women’s untapped freedom of thought and actions. The choreographed scenes certainly suggest this, but where it is most striking is in their impromptu a cappella rendition of Down To The River To Pray. A strange, incongrous choice perhaps, given the sentiments expressed by ‘A’ and ‘B’ earlier, but music often has a way of touching people, regardless of its source and this was a unifying activity performed on their own terms. An calming oasis before the storm.

four-stars

© Michael Davis 2017

Beautiful Little Fools ran at the Cockpit Theatre on 7th and 8th August 2017.

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