Celebrating the wealth of writing talent from South East England, Broken Silence Theatre’s Voices From Home offers five strong examples of why there should be more events like this. The fact that five writers are women and offer narratives that cover the full spectrum of the female experience is also another hugely positive aspect of this event.
Opening the evening, Sungrazer by Clare Reddaway sees two Swedish sisters with very different vocations and points of view. Annika (Eleanor Crosswell) works at the local nuclear power plant. She staunchly believes in the safety and reliability of this form of energy and believes that there is a rational explanation for everything. Meanwhile, Inga (Emma Howarth) doesn’t have blind faith in science and worries about the safety of her sister.
L-R: Annika (Eleanor Crosswell) and Inga (Emma Howarth)
The play begins with Annika visitng her sister on her birthday. But instead of sharing a bottle of wine inside, they wait for signs of a four billion year-old comet in the sky. In some ways the comet represents why the sisters are so different. Annika could explain everything there is to know about its composition, trajectory and history. Inga, however, would marvel at this solitary celestial traveller and intuitively know that it’s the first time it’s passed the Earth since the formation of the solar system.
An event at the plant leads to an epiphany for Annika, but the real heart of the play is the sisters’ relationship and how despite being so different in every way, they care for each other.
Imagine a world where women are totally in charge. Really. An end to war, sexism, the Patriarchy… Only one problem – there’s only one fertile man left in the whole world. That’s the setting M** & Women by Sydney Stevenson. Guarding the ‘value resource’, Melissa Parker and Eleanor Grace are very different in personality and their outlook on this state of affairs.
Grace’s character is able to look at the bigger picture, and see the pros and cons of the New World Order. Parker’s character, meanwhile, is more circumspect and less prone to question anything. But asides from the explaining the practicalities of the ‘stud farm’ situation, we have an inkling on what the women’s respective sexual preferences are and how it impacts them personally.
L-R: Melissa Parker and Eleanor Grace
But the play isn’t all heavy introspection. Amusing but real ‘problems’ are discussed, such as what to do with surplus men’s underwear, M** & Women really is about the multi-faceted nature of women and that no two women are alike. As the play points out, the question isn’t whether women make better leaders (Thatcher, May, ahem…) but whether they’ll get the chance to show the full spectrum of their personalities in public life – an opportunity that’s not available for all.
Motherhood – the most sacred of institutions. Because of the importance society places on it, there is the unseen pressure to ‘get it right’. But motherhood comes naturally to all women… doesn’t it? Flying Ant Day by Jo Gatford explores this notion and how two women have very different experiences. Alice (Jennifer Oliver) has two children, but raising them feels far from a rewarding experience, it’s a hard slog. She also feels that she’s ‘invisible’ – or rather that people look ‘through her’, choosing not to ‘see her’.
L-R: Alice (Jennifer Oliver) and Karen (Emmie Spencer)
Her friend Karen (Emmie Spencer) appears to have a very different experience of motherhood. Coping with three children, with no signs of tiredness and a partner who’s still attentive to her, she is ‘living the dream’. But why are some women given support and encouragement, while others are left to ‘go it alone’..?
The fourth play of the evening (The Cromer Special) is a light-hearted affair and author Emma Zadow sets the tale in her home region of Norfolk. It is a few days before Christmas, and Maggie (Claudia Campbell) and Lucy (Abbi Douetil) wait for customers in the fish and chips shop. Actually, it would be more accurate to say that Maggie is waiting, while Lucy is keeping her company. In any case they are both thoroughly bored.
The conversation turns to Maggie’s course tutor who she’s attracted to and the last time she saw him when he came into the shop (nightmare!). There is also talk of the University of East Anglia and how ‘posh’ people talk in the area, which I thought was interesting. Speaking in regional accents, the actors brought the world of Cromer to life and shed light on a seldom-mentioned area of the UK. After the moving, but pensive Flying Ant Day, this was just what was needed, and the facial expressions of the actors were a delight to watch.
Closing the evening, Home Time by Olivia Rosenthall tackles a problem that women face, especially on urban transport. Performed by Isobel Eadie, one woman descibes her thoughts and feelings as her worst fears are confirmed. Someone’s standing a little close to her… And what is that behind her..? Home Time made for uncomfortable viewing, especially as the audience realises the full implications of what is going on. However, Eadie’s delivery reminds us of how invasive such incidents are, and the choice to act (or not) to a fight or flight response in a public space…
© Michael Davis 2018
Voices From Home ran at Old Red Lion Theatre on 11th and 12th of November.
Sungrazer by Clare Reddaway (Sussex). Directed by Peter Taylor.
M** & Women by Sydney Stevenson (Buckinghamshire). Directed by Tim Cook.
Flying Ant Day by Jo Gatford (Sussex). Directed by Elizabeth Benbow.
The Cromer Special by Emma Zadow (Norfolk). Directed by Charlie Norburn.
Home Time by Olivia Rosenthall (Essex). Directed by Tess Agus.