At present, the Coronavirus lockdown has led to a growing number of established theatres streaming shows online for free. For UK theatre companies that work on the Fringe, they are able to do the same for a limited period on https://www.onlinefringefestival.com/ This week there are seven shows to watch and more will be added each week. The write-up below concerns three of the shows.
The Two of Us
Devised by the MarianaMalena Theatre Company, The Two of Us revolves around Mariana (Mariana Aristizábal Pardo) and her grandmother Blanca. As someone who has lived as a ‘freelance creative’ for several years, her life is very different from that of her abuelita. Asides from moving out of Colombia and having a career in London which provides an expressive outlet (if not financial security), Mariana’s life has none of the trappings that would have been expected of her two generations ago – neither a long-term significant other (relationship just ended), children, or a house/flat of one’s own. The real question is are their absence because of a different set of priorities?
Initially beginning in the last leg of her flight ‘home’, Mariana talks to her fellow passengers about what’s troubling her. Much of what Marianna initially discloses about her ‘professional’ and personal life is instantly recognisable to any young woman working in a major city. But as someone who has had opportunities and made many life choices, Marianna isn’t 100% happy. Blanca, in contrast, is the model of fecundity and domesticity. By the age of 30 she was married with five children and lived in her own home. From a ‘career’ perspective, she hasn’t anything to show for her life, but her magnum opus is the well-being of her extended family.
Rather than suggest that either woman is ‘better’ or more ‘developed/self-actualized’ (though there is an interesting observation about their respective ‘self-awareness’ regarding women’s health) the play highlights what they have in common – their ability to roll with what life throws at them and carry on regardless.
As co-director of the show, Malena Arcucci also has an amusing cameo as the air stewardess who keeps a watchful eye on the limber Marianna, who is always to be found in the aisle. The music accompaniment by Bryan Muñoz also adds a subliminal Latin patina to the proceedings.
The Two of Us streams on https://www.onlinefringefestival.com/ until 12th April.
Testament of Yootha
As one of the stars of two successful British sitcoms in the 1970s, Yootha Joyce was a much-loved larger-than-life actor. But while she was a household name, Joyce – like many of her comedic peers in the same era – had an ambivalenet relationship to success and stereotyping.
Written and performed by Caroline Burns Cooke, Testament of Yootha plays the titular actor who appeared for several years in Man About The House and George and Mildred. Far from being a dour affair, Burns Cooke conveys Joyce’s vivacity and forthrightness.
Like many entertainers in postwar Britain, Joyce began her career on the stage, initially with “The Mother of Modern Theatre” Joan Littlewood. But it was with a series of succesful runs in West End theatre that led to work in television. For anyone who is familiar with British entertainers in the 1960s and ’70s, the references to these well-known figures theatre that are peppered throughout the show are delightful, especially when spoken of with a ‘catty’ intent.
For the most part, the show is upbeat and a tonic for these distressing times. It doesn’t however, shirk away from moments that are more serious or earnest which occur under the guise of the other ‘characters’ that ‘Joyce’ plays.
Testament of Yootha streamed on https://www.onlinefringefestival.com/ from 6th to 10th April.
There has always been a pressure on women since time immemorial to be married by a certain age (ideally to a man with means or prospects) and somewhere down the line, to have children. While these tenets of ‘womanhood’ have been eroded in the West over the past 70+ years, in some societies such notions are very much alive…
Susan Hingley + Honey-Tongued Theatre Productions’ Baaba’s Footsteps examines the life of Yu (Eyre Kurasawa) a 39-year-old television producer in Tokyo, who reaches a crossroads in her life. Dismissed from her job for having an ‘inappropriate relationship’ (yet still being coerced by her employers into accepting a matchmade marriage) Yu puts some distance between recent events by travelling to San Francisco to visit a relative. There she stumbles across a second diary belonging to her great grandmother, back when she was a 16-year-old ‘picture bride’…
Without being didactic, the play draws parallels between the two women and the disparity between expectations in ‘courtship’ versus reality. As Yu’s story is set in early 2020, during the cusp of COVID-19 outbreak, the play conveys the distrust that those of East Asian descent have experienced from some quarters. We also see how during the Second World War, xenophobia was even more pronounced in the U.S. and the internment camps that were set up for citizens of Japanese descent. The ‘taboo’ subject of assimilating a Western appearence and identity is also addressed – a response from some ethnic groups to ‘fit in’ more readily.
Baaba’s Footsteps packs a lot of ideas in its hour running time, which flies by. Far from being just a niche tale about familial connections, the play’s intersectionaity provides greater depth in the questions and answers it broaches.
Baaba’s Footsteps streams on https://www.onlinefringefestival.com/ until 12th April.
Donations are encouraged for all the shows to help fund the Festival and all of the participating artists. OFF only keeps 10% of any funds raised and the remaining 90% are split between the artists.
© Michael Davis 2020
Other shows streaming on OFF until 12th April:
Fata Morgana (Work-In-Progress)