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Camden Fringe 2015: Ladylogue (Tristan Bates Theatre, London)

ladylogue! It's complicated. Maria Yarjah in 'Family (Mis)Frountes'. Photograph: Courtesy of Phillip Scutt.
ladylogue!

It’s complicated. Maria Yarjah in ‘Family (Mis)Frountes’. Photograph: Courtesy of Phillip Scutt.

In A Nuthsell

A blistering showcase of theatre-girl power, Ladylogue! is female theatrics at the top of its game demonstrating astonishing quality and breadth.

Overview

The Thelmas return to the Camden Fringe Festival with another Ladylogue!: six new short pieces of solo theatre, written, directed, and performed by women.

Concept

In their continuing efforts to redress the male-female balance in theatre, the plucky The Thelmas return with Ladylogue!: a platform to show just how fierce the “fairer sex” can be. Whilst Whoop ‘n’ Wail Represents… looks at fostering new short pieces that pass the Bechdel test using both male and female collaborators, Ladylogue! sees only women going solo.

Last year, Ladylogue! demonstrated an already impressive breadth of variety and quality. Just when you thought it would be difficult to top that this year, Ladylogue! has gone and done just that. There’s everything in Ladylogue! from heart-wrenching spoken prose to tittering tragicomedies. Like last year, the sextet of pieces do lean towards the more humorous, but that doesn’t detract from the deep and complex issues written here. Furthermore, the pieces in Ladylogue! are not all necessarily about being female, with topics ranging from social networking, status quo, and political dressing downs.

What’s most striking about Ladylogue! is not just the celebration of female writing, production, and performing, but the fact that there’s a real sense of diversity embraced here too. What’s most refreshing and exciting about the new writing here in Ladylogue! is that these don’t saunter through using obvious clichés or lazy stereotypes, but is used to tackle common and wide-reaching issues through a knowing cultural slant that really lifts the topic being explored, rather than plumping for being “ethnic” pieces: the same goes in the portrayal of women in general. Everything here in Ladylogue! is thoughtful, clever, and excellent writing.

You really can’t come across a better half-dozen firecracker pieces of short solo theatre, regardless of the gender behind their existence. Ladylogue! is a triumph of new writing: end of.

Ghost, by Lucy Foster
Rating: ****

Foster’s piece really chimes with the unachieved dreams of Generation Y. Through exploring the history and ambitions of our character, they try to make sense of where it all went wrong and how it could possibly get worst as they head out to a make or break job interview.

Opening Ladylogue!, Ghost is tacked with plenty of dry humour but also pathos, constantly making inks back to childhood personality and adult tenancies, putting these in the character’s context of family bereavement. The more tragic side of Ghost does feel a little awkward in that it’s perhaps just a touch heavy for a comedy. Elsewhere, our character tends to ramble a bit. But none the less, its a spunky and eerily accurate insight into the lot of the late-20s and early-30s people who haven’t quite yet achieved what they thought they would.

Director Madelaine Moore does a sound job of making sure the pace and tone are balanced well between both comic and tragic elements of Ghost. The tragedy is never maudlin and keeps a certain lightness without belaying its sadness, and the comedy is never allowed to become too silly. Kim Burnett performs to Moore’s direction well, adding a fizzing sense of anxious neurosis and resentment that really sums up an entire generation.

Ladykiller, by Madelaine Gould
Rating: *****

There’s been a murder, and a hotel maid is fresh on the scene.

Gould’s brutal opening gives way to a sardonic and darkly funny tale about class, from violent oppression to bloody revolution. Gould’s character is wonderfully but quietly ever-so-slightly psychotic, turning from panicked victim to fierce perpetrator, making this certainly not what you’d expect, finding laugh out loud moments among class strife, upheaval, and a lot of gore.

Moore’s direction and Hannah McClean’s performance both reek of a chilling sense of control as McClean swaggers through motive and memory without careering into something too fantastical. Even in this most twisted of scenarios, both still manage to find a deeply believable and surprisingly polite anger and humanity. She had it coming.

Ladylogue!

Clean up at No. 9. Asha Kingsley in ‘My Sons Are Doctors’. Photograph: Courtesy of Phillip Scutt.

My Sons Are Doctors, by Mina Maisuria
Rating: ****

Keeping up with the Jones’, or in this case, the Patels, is always hard work, and moreso for our heroine in My Sons Are Doctors. Racing into the supermarket loos to avoid confrontation with their next door enemy, our character has time to tell us about the rivalry, the demise of her marriage, and dealing with her son’s disability.

Lightness turns into quiet struggles and regrets as Maisuria looks at a woman living on the fringes, constantly compared to the success of others. It’s filled with awkward and difficult choices, all glossed with a thick lick of Indian humour: a prime example of where culture is used to lift and explore a subject from a different point of view, rather than let it dominate. The only issue is that My Sons Are Doctors is a bit meandering at times and perhaps explores too broad a pallet of subject. But it’s still a hoot of a journey.

Moore conjures the cramped space of a supermarket toilet by using only using a small portion of the Tristan Bate’s ample performance space, but ensures that despite this invisible cosiness that the performance is never static. This is helped by Ash Kingsley’s hilarious larger than life performance filled with scathing humour with a prick here and there of genuine and real tragedy.

Family (Mis)Fortunes, by Maria Yarjah
Rating: *****

Teens and social media are inseparable. But what about the perils of living your life out virtually? And what further problems are encountered when you let your family into your on-line space?

Yarjah’s Family (Mis)Foruntes is a fresh and fast-paced look at dating, family dynamics, and social media. Whilst certainly a cautionary tale, it brims with embarrassing cheek for our character rather than doom and gloom. Yarjah really gets into the rowdy hubris of adolescence and the result is a character who is not only a great storyteller but is brimming with bruised ego. What’s more, Yarjah weaves in some wonderful Afro-Caribbean family dynamics that really lift the piece rather than turning into a Cosby-esque after-school special, accentuating the points made, with plenty of giggles en route, about why you probably should be a bit more careful about who sees your posts. Family (Mis)Fortunes is a great little piece with frantic flavour.

Moore does a solid job of bringing out the fidgeting energy of the teenage years without making it feel too restless or uncontrolled. Put behind this Yarjah’s loud and loquacious performance, and Family (Mis)Fortunes becomes a piece that will have you grinning from ear to ear and blushing bright with cringe.

The Night Tella, by Sarah Milton
Rating *****

A friend, at her companion’s hospital bedside, tries to recall the fated night that she was raped and put in a coma.

Inspired by Hilarie Belloc’s poem Tarentella, Milton uses metre, thick wordplay, and clever repetitions to create a driving, dancing, and brutal portrait of violence against women. It might be the most severe piece in Ladylogue!, but it’s also the most heartbreakingly sincere and pressing. As a piece of poetry in itself, it’s exquisitely heady and incredibly rich. Rhythm and a slight sense of absurdism saturate Milton’s bouncing text, starting from something somewhat innocuous into a dark and deeply impactful prose.

Moore creates a whirlwind on stage, torrenting words and movement around it with unstoppable anguish, as Joana Nastari effortlessly and savagely trips through the text with a sublime sense of fury. It’s a shocking and phenomenal piece of writing and performance that sticks with you from the very first line and haunts you for ages afterwards.

Zero, by Serena Haywood
Rating: *****

A woman with agoraphobia is stuck inside her two-bedroom council flat, broadcasting her efforts to leave her home across the internet, in an attempt to help others in her situation. In her solitude, she has created an intergalactic world to help her cope with the encroaching benefits “police”, and the death of her mother.

Haywood pens a viscous sideways comedy that puts the vapid and toxic rhetoric on disability on benefits firmly in its place. Zero never gets overly maudlin, even though it could have so easily have been a ranty and angry piece of theatre. Instead, Haywood, again working their miracle talent for character writing, has come up with a cooky and breezy satire, that still has its dark and heartfelt turns. Haywood’s character makes you genuinely feel for and connect with them, meaning at the apex of Zero, you’re on the edge of the seat as to what they’ll do next. You’ll definitely laugh, and you’ll certainly gasp too.

Sarah Cowan gives a biting performance, full of sass and spite mixed with an almost unflappable determination and dangerous sense of humour. Cowan ensures Zero is a supernova end to Ladylogue!.

Verdict

Here come the girls! Ladylogue! proves that the female of the species is as talented as the male.

Ladylogue! played at the Tristan Bates Theatre, London, WC2H 9NP, between 17-22 August 2015 as part of the Camden Fringe Festival. For more information about The Thelmas, visit www.thethelmas.co.uk.