Review: No One Wants A Pretty Girl at the Bread and Roses Theatre

At a time when the theatre is crying out for more female representation, Francesca Mepham and Femm Theatre are doing their best to oblige. No One Wants A Pretty Girl – written, directed and performed by women – is a collection of six monologues, which take us on a short but powerful rollercoaster ride through different aspects of female life, touching along the way on heartbreak, humour and even horror.

Though each one of the six can and does stand alone as an independent story, under Laura Clifford’s direction they also fit cohesively together as a collection, overlapping just enough to allow a brief moment of interaction between performers as they enter or exit the stage. This is a nice touch that gives the piece a feeling of collaboration, even though the individual stories are very different.

In the first, Should, Tayo Elesin has just watched the man she loves get married to someone else. A short but captivating piece, it’s full of pain and futile rage – not against the man in question, but against herself for having lost him in the first place. Things then take a decidedly more upbeat turn in Jade Jacket and Trousers, a story of success against the odds that almost feels like a motivational TED talk. Antonia Kleopa is funny and likeable, and not afraid to directly address members of the audience in order to get her point across. The same goes for Charlotte Hunt’s vain blonde in Side B*tch – except her intention is to make her chosen audience members uncomfortable, and she definitely doesn’t care if we like her. She’s pretty, after all…

Arguably the most powerful of the pieces is My Daddy is Mexican, heartbreakingly performed by Felicity Huxley-Miners. She plays a young blind American whose family has been devastated as a result of racism against her father. As horrific as the story is, particularly in light of recent events in the USA, the end is oddly touching, because despite everything she’s gone through, this young woman refuses to be beaten.

In No Shame, Naina Kohli reminisces about falling for her boyfriend’s sister – but somehow it’s the boyfriend who ends up dominating the narrative, by complaining that he feels ashamed of her new relationship – though she herself knows she’s done nothing wrong. Similarly, in Saturday Night, Farran Mitchell finds herself sitting at home alone watching Doctor Who, waiting for the boyfriend she just dumped to call and beg her to come back. She knows he will, because he’s done it before – and she’s too lonely to resist, even though she knows being with him won’t make her happy.

All six pieces are beautifully written, and resonate with warmth, humour and above all, authenticity; each of the women feels like someone you might actually meet – or maybe even already know. Some you’d want to go for a drink with; others not so much. Some have been defeated by their stories, while others refuse to give in. It’s not always pretty, but that’s exactly the point – women are more than just ornaments, and this enjoyable showcase of female talent does a great job of going beneath the surface to find the individuals underneath.

Follow @FemmTheatre on Twitter for news about future performances.


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Interview: Stephanie Martin, Bridle

Now in its third year, new writing showcase #Festival47 kicks off next week at the King’s Head Theatre. Among 19 shows featured in the programme is Bridle from Clamour Theatre, a contemporary satire on female sexuality and the attempts to control it, written by Stephanie Martin.

Bridle is about challenging and rewriting narratives and perspectives on female sexuality and behaviour,” explains Stephanie, who also performs in the show. “It’s about desire, heartbreak, shame, fathers, violence, pornography, millennial culture. It’s about how female sexuality and behaviour are subtly policed and judged.”

Bridle marks Stephanie’s debut as a writer: “I wrote it last May, inspired by the disparity between the people I know in real life and the tropes of behaviour that are defined as ‘good’ or ‘proper’,” she says. “We shared the show for the first time, as a full length piece, at the brilliant Camden People’s Theatre hotbed Festival of Sex in April. Our first sharing saw me performing the piece with other actors, Elissa Churchill and Charlotte Clitherow, and so #Festival47 will be the first time I’ve ever performed it solo – I’ll be heartbroken/lonely and bored without the other two.

“As Bridle is the first thing I’ve ever written, I’m also extremely grateful to EJ and Pip at Pluck Productions, Georgie and Will at Flux Theatre and the Emerge Night, as well as Nastazja Somers and her HerStory baby, for first programming excerpts of Bridle as part of their respective new writing nights in November and December 2016. These three companies are a great example of London’s new writing scene, giving opportunities, support and confidence to new writers and makers.”

Bridle may be about women, but that doesn’t mean it’s only a show for women. “Absolutely not, it’s a show for all,” says Stephanie. “I personally believe we all exist as a gorgeous mismatch of the male and the female, so come as you are and enjoy. Some of the ‘male’ audiences of the past performances seemed a little disconnected or in some way to blame for some of Bridle, which I didn’t predict or imagine at all.

“I want us to all remove shame from our lives, to feel comforted that lots of us go through the same things, to feel okay about being weird and vulnerable. And to laugh at me and laugh at all of us.”

Clamour Theatre describe themselves as “raw, excited and all about today”. Stephanie explains, “We’ve formed to explore new perspectives, new characters, new stories in raw, explosive and enjoyable ways. We love humour, we love energy and we like looking at new stories and/or re-examining the status quo.”

Stephanie will be performing the show at the King’s Head on 11th, 12th and 16th July at 9.30pm. “It’s an honour to be programmed as part of the festival and defined as part of the ‘future of the theatre’, especially by a theatre with a reputation like the King’s Head,” she says. “The rest of the festival line-up looks fab too and we’re looking forward to seeing the other companies. I’ve seen such a huge variety of fab, quality work at King’s Head over the last 4 or 5 years so looking forward to being on that stage, too.”

Book now for Bridle at the King’s Head Theatre, 10th-16th July.

Review: HerStory 4 at Theatre N16

Guest review by Jemima Frankel

What might you expect from a feminist theatre festival at a small fringe theatre in Balham, in June 2017? What issues, events, people, stereotypes – laws, even – might compel feminist theatre makers to, well, make theatre right now? The more cynical amongst us might expect a hipster-infused horde of angry, “snowflake” millenials shouting loudly about the “pale stale male”.  What they would find, however, is a potent and welcome remedy to such limiting cynicism. HerStory, founded by Nastazja Somers, was born out of frustration at the repetitive, singular storyline of female characters in theatre and wider society. She invites feminists to perform work that platforms the untold stories – the real faces of intersectionality – that are so routinely trampled over in the charge for more palatable voices. HerStory does not just demand our attention; it grabs it, with consent, by the pussy.

The second of two nights at HerStory 4 (the big sister of the HerStorys 1, 2 and 3 in preceding years) was a showcase of eight richly varied solo performances. We heard the female voice on topical issues such as abortion, domestic abuse, child rape, LGBTQ issues, sexual harassment, social media, war and… Iranian mothers. What shot through the hurt, the anger, the raw and gutting sadness of several of these stories was the resounding support buzzing from the audience. Huge cheers, belly laughs and tenterhooked-gasps filled the air – testament, of course, to the quality of the performers who took to the stage.

As expected, some of the work made emotional viewing. Dannie-Lu Carr’s Just Another C*nt told the incredibly moving story of a toxic relationship with an alcoholic man who encouraged an abortion. The Twilight Zone by Suzy Gill tackles cultural discrimination and homophobia, as a young woman’s Muslim girlfriend is called away again to fight for the American army in Iraq. In one of Tolu Agbelusi’s powerful spoken word performances she spoke of the rape of a seven-year-old girl at the grabbing, angry hands of two young boys. In Mission Abort, directed by Claire Stone and performed by Therese Ramstedt, the Pro-Life words of Donald Trump – “there must be some form of punishment” – seared through the graphic re-enactment of a painful and intrusive abortion. The audience was left open-mouthed and wide-eyed, shocked into reflective silence before roaring applause acknowledged the bravery and resilience of these women.

Humour rippled in welcome and powerful moments through the evening. Amanda Holiday’s The Art Poems took artworks by diverse female painters as the inspiration for witty words, and the ridicule at the price of a handbag (that she will use as a hat, thank you very much). Social Media Suicide by Clare McCall showed us the behind-the-scenes of a very special, perfectly set up, live streamed 27th birthday party, at which she – for the benefit of you lucky viewers – was going to kill herself after much cam-girl style foreplay. The show goes out, quite literally, with a bang as the likes come rolling in. Shahbanu brilliantly performed by Lydia Bakelmun (and written, directed and produced by Melina Namdar, Anna Jeary and Penny Babakhani) revisits the childhood of a girl raised in London to an overbearing Iranian mother and English father. In the nostalgic tales of Iranian princes and (always – eye roll) beautiful princesses, we unravel the feeling of loss, displacement and desperate need to reconnect to heritage and culture. Roxanne Carney’s I’m the Hero of This Story tickled the audience with Tinder one-liners and the jaw-dropping realisation that these were lifted from real conversations with real men, probably within about five miles of you.

The Museum of Women, the poignant closing poem of Tolu Agbulesi’s set, speaks of the great women “quietly shaping” her. “This body is a monument of many women; I was not built alone,” she speaks; a perfect beacon of support and solidarity that resonated with the diverse mix of men and women in the audience. As the audience left chattering and tweeting, I was reminded once again of the power of performance – if not as a way to change the world, then as a way to get the conversation well and truly started.

Follow @HerstoryFTF for details of upcoming events and performances, as they move to a more central London location.


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