In A Nutshell
A second selection box of feminist theatre, Whoop ‘n’ Wail Represents…Desire effortlessly demonstrates that the Bechdel Test is far from a limitation.
Theatre company Whoop ‘n’ Wail challenge both female and male writers to create new short works that must pass the Bechdel Test, this time around the themes of desire.
Following on from Whoop ‘n’ Wail Represents…The Launch, the feminist new writing collective return, this time with a bit of theming and accepting submissions from around the globe. Whilst the first evening started off strong, this second instalment has certainly found a better consistency in casting the net a little wider beyond Britain’s borders. Each play, meeting the infamous Bechdel Test to ensure ensuring women are properly represented, is more finely honed and well written than the previous anthology. All show that this is by no means a stifling criteria to adopt, providing a wealth of narratives and characters that are both surprising and the affecting.
However, this comes at the sacrifice of some variety. Whilst there’s certainly still some, the majority of the plays plump for something more humorous: only one play could definitely be described as drama. But then it doesn’t detract from the creative scope and ability of the writers none the less, or take away from it being an enchanting evening of new writing that’s burgeoning with exciting new feminist writing that doesn’t feel “feminist” or limited in the slightest.
Heart’s Desire, by Ali Kemp & Deborah Klayman
Dir: Emily Bush
A difficult one to start with, and probably the weakest play of the evening. But that’s not to say that there’s anything particularly wrong about it. Written by Whoop ‘n’ Wail’s founders, it’s certainly meant as a piece to set up the rest of the evening and the theme.
In a game show where you can win your heart’s desire, does your mind always know what your heart wants? And how dangerous can this be to firm friendships?
The problem is, is that this is a bit too much like a game show, but without any of the noise, lights, and hyperbole. This makes it a little dry with some of the true to form tropes, such as the incessant mentioning of the game show’s name, dragging the narrative pace. Whilst Kemp and Klayman do a wonderful job of using game rounds to establish the main characters backgrounds and intentions, the tedious formula of the game itself makes it feel like the plot hardly moves.
But the twist is quite a surprising one and is worth the pay off, although the fall-out from this, in my opinion, would have made for more interesting material than the lead up to it.
Georgina Panton and Isolbel Wolff as the game show contestants are exceptionally natural and could be mistaken for actual punters trying their luck rather than two actors.
The Hidden Room, by Patricia Reynoso
Dir: Norman Murray
An absolutely blistering and affecting piece, and possibly my favourite for the evening. Two women from the same village who have not seen each other for years, find themselves face to face after being sold to a Mumbai brothel. The other coaches the newcomer on how to cope in a situation that they’ll be in for the rest of their lives.
A disturbing and heartbreaking subject that highlights the plight of women sold into the sex trade in India. The details disturb and shock, but Reynoso’s approach is one that is very character and humanly focused. Her characters talk candidly about their lives and their experiences, and in this, amid the mire and desperation, finds an aching beauty and glimmer of human endeavour, especially with some of the beautiful imagery she creates through her character’s vivid imaginations.
Both Radhika Aggarwal and Ariane Barnes excel as Reynoso’s fated woman, but embrace that sense of female endurance and camaraderie. But they attend their characters tenderly and honestly, without ever resorting to melodrama, making their performances are just as impactful as the piece.
Couple with this Murray’s clausustraphobic direction, making use of depth but not breadth to make the space seem cramped even though it’s ample and bare, and you’ve got an incredibly affecting and haunting short play.
Three A.M., by Barbara Blumenthal-Ehrlich
Dir: Dan Horrigan
A wonderful little piece looking into the psyche of mothers, dissecting their fears surrounding parenthood. A mother can’t sleep at night and phones a neighbour who she notices also has her light on. What ensues is a maelstrom of paranoia, dread, and anxiety behind the façade of an all-American family.
Bluementhal-Ehrlich provides a brisk and pacey little short looking at the more maternal side of womanhood, and the social pressures put upon them in a broken and scary world. Her characters are two women who approach their fears in two different and polar ways, but never so outlandish as to not be believable.
Acted superbly by Klayman and Charlotte Couture as the two women on the edge, it’s a snappy little piece of bite and humour.
Nice Jumper, by Daniel Page
Dir: Alice Bonifacio
This little comedy, in every sense, is not what it seems. When one girl meets another with the same jumper, a whole other host of coincidences suggest a deeper, more supernatural connection that could possibly lead to more. However, are either of them what they claim to be?
Page’s characters have a wonderful little repartee going on throughout, and a slow reveal that has you wondering what on earth is going on right up to the last minute. It even goes as far as lead you to the wrong conclusion before surprising you with the actual, darker twist. It’s a smart and surprising little comic thriller that asks more questions that it answers about our visible identities and the dangers of being an open book, even if it seems a bit rom-com on the surface.
Dani Moseley and Lizzie Bourne have a great tense chemistry between them, as they explore this literally incredible situation. Moseley in particular, is wonderfully frank and spunky in her role.
Would You let Me Finish?, by Leon Kaye
Dir: Sarah Davies
When Amy recognises her favourite TV psychic on the street, an impromptu reading leads to more sinister devices.
Kaye’s lambaste of the TV psychic circuit is bang on form and incredibly witty. Again, this is a piece holds a darker undertone that slowly creeps up on you. As the outlandish exchanges of cold readings and celestial powers deepens, we find that the psychic’s powers of persuasion might be more dangerous than her “gift”. Both Laura Garnier and Nichola Rivers are as ticklingly cooky as each other, both of them adding light and heart as well as something a little more suspect.
If anything stops it from being a great piece is that it’s just feels a little throw away and shallow. Whereas other pieces in the evening’s run prompt a thoughtful response, this just provides little more than a quirky diversion.
Work Love Balance, by Tom Jensen
Dir: Tom Neill
This is certainly the boldest and most experimental piece of the evening, which it pulls off marvellously well. A grotesque stylised pantomime of an unlikely and doomed triangle of misplaced infatuation plays out before us. Manager loves union rep, union rep loves employee, and employee loves manager. Unfortunately the affections aren’t reciprocated. It’s spiked with wit and satire throughout and is a wonderfully surreal farce.
Neill’s direction really come into it’s own as he conducts a well timed absurd ballet to music as the play’s finale, as well orchestrating larger than life interactions and style throughout. He commands a consistent cartoon quality that the cast wonderfully lap up. An oddball and outrageous end to the evening, even though it doesn’t really say much, and is possibly the one play that passes the Bechdel Test the least with both female characters involving themselves solely in their love interests.
A celebration of feminist theatre that explodes any notions that it’s predictable or restrictive. Whoop ‘n’ Wail continue to challenge and delight with a much stronger body of work compared to last time.
Whoop ‘n’ Wail Represents…Desire took place at the Waterloo East Theatre, SE1 8TG, 6-7 February 2015. For more information about Whoop ‘n’ Wail, visit http://whoopnwail.com.