Some would say things were never the same again in 1998, when the popular confectionery known as Opal Fruits was rebranded as Starburst. Personally, I think it all went downhill years earlier when Marathon chocolate bars were changed to Snickers! But I digress. In all seriousness, details we remember from our youth often leave an indelible mark on our memories and later represent something of profound importance. In the spirit of this, Holly Beasley-Garrigan Opal Fruits is both very personal – replete with minutiae of the era – as well as having a perspective on ‘the bigger picture’.
As someone who self-identifies as being from a working class background, Beasley-Garrigan’s latest show addresses this aspect of her past and how in theatre this is represented.
Beasley-Garrigan spoke to a number of women ‘from the old neighbourhood’ as research for this show, having a frame of reference for her own experiences. By her own admission it’s a part of east London that has seen better days and for the single mothers who live in the area, it is exceptionally hard. For the women of previous generations who live there, they also have their own story – their own ‘flavours’. Despite their differences, their respective stories unite them – much like the beloved sweets of yesteryear.
To aid with the visualisation of these people, after giving a character description, Beasley-Garrigan asks the audience to choose the sort of clothes they would wear. As she talks about ‘Opal’ age 8, 15, 32… we sense that these ‘characters’ aren’t random strangers, but someone ‘closer to home’ – either herself at different ages or the women of her own immediate family.
Asides from the ‘Opal’ rerferences, Beasley-Garrigan reminisces about life in the late 1990s and what it was like personally – as well as from a socio-political perspective. At the time, the advent of New Labour promised an end to ‘class war’, though in some ways it never went away. For the likes of single mothers, their demonisation has never rescinded – often claiming benefits because child care while working would eat up most of their potential earnings.
To illustrate her point about society’s inherent disparagement of mothers and the impoverished, Beasley-Garrigan reels off some of the classic “Your mom” jokes that are online. Suffice to say that while some of the early examples were mildly amusing, the later ones leave no one in doubt about the spirit they were intended…
While Beasley-Garrigan’s show is entertaining, she also demonstrates an awareness of the nuances of class and the ‘ripple effect’ of her own ‘upwardly mobile’ development on the world around her. Not afraid to talk about political ideas and uncomfortable truths, her insight into the ramifications of the ‘right to buy’ council housing during the 1980s leaves us with the realisation that one person’s ‘self-improvement’ is invariably at the detriment of the precariat.
In the end, Beasley-Garrigan manages to give a voice to the women who have no voice and in doing so, lays the ghosts of regret to rest as she reconnects to her matriarchal forebears and society’s silent majority.
© Michael Davis 2018
Opal Fruits runs the Vaults Festival until 27th January (3pm matinee on 26th January).