Anyone who has been to the Edinburgh or Vaults Festival knows about the ‘juggling act’ one has to perform with one’s schedule to fit in all the shows you want to see. Patchwork is the brainchild of Artistic Director Ruby Maschler, where the audience gets to choose which short plays or events they want to attend over a three-hour period. The rest of this review looks at the items I personally watched over the course of an evening.
First on my list was The Memory of Water, a ‘tragicomedy’ by Shelagh Stevenson. Directed by Isabella Hubbard, The Memory of Water is about three sisters who have to deal with the aftermath of their mother’s death. Set in the wintertime, Teresa, Mary and Catherine congregate in the family home – the first time the estranged sisters have met in ages.
Teresa (Inês Marcelo Curto) is the eldest and was the only one of the sisters to spend time with mother Vi when she had dementia. Married to husband Frank, Teresa is a big advocate of ‘natural remedies’ and runs a health food shop. Mary (Lindsey Huebner) works as a doctor, but because of her ‘important’ vocation, Vi didn’t want her disturbed when her health took a turn for the worse – a sore point for Teresa. While Mary’s only had a few hours’ sleep, Teresa keeps on coming in to her room to chat, along with their youngest sister… Catherine (Laura Mary Kerin) on the surface is the least fazed by recents events, recently returned from a shopping spree. It’s very apparent that not only are the sisters nothing like each other, they all had a different ‘relationship’ with their mother and can’t even agree on what events happened to which sibling.
In its half-hour running time, the play manages to broach so many potent subjects – how one ‘should’ react when grieving, other siblings’ perspective one’s love life and how being the eldest/’middle child’/youngest factors into development into adulthood. The play was well-cast – hard to imagine anyone else playing the respective roles.
Improv took centre stage in Blind Date (with Francesca Barnes, Miztli Rose, Charlotte Keith, Sarita Taylor and Beau Roberts) but rather than focusing on romantic liaisons, the scenarios dreamt up were of a ‘platonic’ and surreal nature, such as a potential housemate who is fixated with her mother, and another who is a pyromaniac.
Reflections, which is directed by Zoe Morris, sees ‘Rita’, a young woman at odds with herself. Closest to the audience, one Rita (Fie Holm) attentively plays with her teddy bears, while her ‘reflection’ is preoccupied with getting the light and angle right for her selfie. While there is an obvious meta-/Dorian Gray aspect to this activity, one senses there is something amiss with both ‘Ritas’. The clue lies in their childhood, when their younger brother thought he could fly… An interesting take on regressive behaviour and the reasons for the obsession with social media.
Written by Charlotte Keith and directed by Ruby Maschler, Perfect Weapons examines women’s contributions to the fight against fascism in the Second World War. The cast of The Memory of Water appear in this too, with a couple of additions – Sarita Taylor and the play’s writer, Charlotte Keith. Curo plays an American in occupied France (a bit like ‘Rick’ in Casablanca, though in not so glamorous a location) – acting as the go-between between the Free French based in London and the Resistance in France.
In their line of work with agents ‘in the field’, the chance of being ‘found out’ by the enemy is high. In the case of Huebner’s character (‘Le Chat’), all of her contacts have been picked up by the Germans. Still, she doesn’t seem to perturbed by this turn of events… Two other women also turn up unexpectedly that evening – agents played by Sarita Taylor and Charlotte Keith. With all that’s been going on, the audience is left wondering if any of these women are double agents, if anyone is telling the whole truth…
As portrayed in this play, the women who acted as agents on the frontline were in some ways just as much danger – if not more so – than soldiers, as they could personally be caught, tortured and killed. The women also showed a high degree of autonomy and authority, making decisions that had a lasting effect on the war.
Directed by Ruby Maschler, Morgan Lloyd Malcom’s Belongings examines the familiar trope of the soldier home from war – this time from a feminine perspective. Back home from serving in Afghanistan, Deb (Charlotte Keith) meets up with Jo (Beau Roberts), someone she knew from her ‘civilian’ days. There are, however, a couple of snags. Firstly, Jo has become the ‘significant other’ of Deb’s father, Jim. If that wasn’t ‘weird’ enough, Jo’s been roped into Jim’s ‘internet enterprise’, but topping that, Deb and Jo were ‘serious’ about each other in the past. So is Jo really ‘bi-’?
This aspect of the play mirrors the circumstances of Ursula Brangwen and Winifred Inger in DH Lawrence’s The Rainbow. In the case of Deb, she has understandably mixed feelings about Jo, especially as Deb’s supplanted mother has disappeared.
Deb tries to circumvent the awkwardness of the situation by talking about how what it must be like for women on Afghanistan, to wear a burqa 99% of one’s life, apart from when in private with their husbands. What must sex be like for these women? What sort of feelings are going through the women’s heads when they finally get to undress? Indirectly, this line of questioning relate to the issues of identity pertaining to Deb and Jo – the supplemental roles women feel they have to adopt versus their true nature.
Last, but not least, The Seer – which is directed by Rebecca Lyon – has Alexandra Perry as the eponymous sibyl. A tent’s set up in the middle of the room – the sort that’s used for ‘proper’ fortune tellers. Anyway, as you might expect, it’s a one-on-one show, so the blindfolded actress playing the seer leads you to the tent, whereupon your fortune is told by Tarot cards. There are a number of twists though…
Firstly, when the blindfold is taken off, we sees the actress is wearing white contact lenses. While it doesn’t quite have the ‘eyes rolled back’ look, it’s very effective. Secondly, whenever the cards are about to be revealed, there’s a mixture of darkness and bright light – very ‘theatrical’, but again effective. However, the real twist is on a couple of occasions, the seers is ‘possessed’ by the spirits. When this occurs, behind the seer there is a projection of the ‘good’, blindfolded self trying to gain control, while the possessed seer is totally in your face (with appropriate lighting, etc).
The first person I saw leave the tent after their experience, the colour had drained from their face. This certainly piqued my interest and after my experience, I understood the reason for the disorientation… Forget The Woman In Black et al, in a high-profile environment, this immersive experience would have the punters coming in droves.
Also performed during the evening (which I didn’t get to see) there was You Knew That Already – a devised piece about OCD, plus Miztli Rose’s Patched Up and Ruby Rae Spiegel’s Dryland.
Patchwork walks the fine line between providing what’s familiar and of interest, and providing ‘unfamiliar’ content that audiences will grow to like too. Also, as a female-led enterprise, Patchwork has effortlessly galvanised the creative energy of so many young women and made progress in addressing the plethora of stories about real women’s lives.
© Michael Davis 2018
Patchwork ran at Ye Old Rose & Crown Theatre on 5th, 7th and 8th July.