views from the gods

saints and sinners of the stage and screen

Tristan Bates Theatre
13th August 2014


Rhiannon Story in Cake

Photography provided by The Thelmas

Whenever I hear "lady" and "-logue", I can't help but think of The Vagina Monologues. It's a famous piece of theatre which always seems to get a crowd, but I can't say it appeals to me. I do like strong female leads, don't get me wrong, but I like my actresses to be a bit less shouty and angry. Thankfully, The Thelmas have taken a far more welcoming approach to Ladylogue!, with the brief to the playwrights simply: "Well, what sort of thing would you like to see?"

The result is six 10-and-a-bit minute monologues which cover the sort of themes that women want to see - and because there isn't a hidden agenda or any obvious underlying politics, actually, the production is accessible to everyone. An all-female cast and crew making theatre that people like - maybe that's the best kind of feminism. Doing what you want because it feels right, not because you think it's what you should be doing.

The first two monologues show different types of naiveté. In Maud Dromgoole's Cake, a young girl is excitedly making the sort of Great British Bake of which Mary Berry would be proud in an attempt to get a boy to like her. "I could sort my whole life out forever tonight," she proclaims, but there's an inevitability that it won't work out. Rhiannon Story is endearing and energetic as the girl, jumping around the stage and chatting quickly, coming across as very warm and believable. As much as we don't think that cake will change her life, we really want her to find happiness.

Candyman sees a woman not prepared to chase around such boys, instead more intent on buying herself a good time. The protagonist, played by Louise Templeton, is dressed sharply in a Little Black Dress, statement necklace and kitten heels, exuding the sort of confidence that comes with a bit more life experience. As she makes her first booking, she makes clear to us that she knows it's just a business transaction, but the speed at which she becomes addicted to escort Demi is almost frightening. Separating out love and sex doesn't come easily and the woman finds herself fighting a barrage of emotions including - as ridiculous as she knows it sounds - jealousy.

The light design from director Madelaine Moore and tech Jennifer Rose is particularly of note in Candyman, with the harsh spotlights framing Templeton perfectly and building up the tension and bleakness. It's primarily a comedic piece of writing, but Moore also manages to capture the darker side to Tina Jay's tale.

Danielle Nott in Take a Look at Me Now

Photography provided by The Thelmas

We see another woman determined to find satisfaction without a traditional relationship in Take a Look at Me Now, written by The Pensive Federation's Serena Haywood. Although we've seen Haywood do comedy before, this is without a doubt the best short play we've seen from her. Haywood's monologue shows a girl getting ready for a date with Phil Collins, taking fantasies to the extreme. It's the stand out monologue, packed full of hilarity. Danielle Nott captures the humour to her character brilliantly.

Not everyone is content with dreaming though, and in Guleraana Mir's Coconut, we see a young woman searching for a real man, one who understands her love of her Indian heritage and her Western ways. She feels pulled in two directions and yearns for someone who gets that. Sukh Ojla plays the protagonist here with plenty of charm. But fundamentally, there's nothing here to stay with you or really make you think and it's all a bit disposable.

We think that the woman in Ella_O' is desperate for a crack at fame, like a lot of people seem to be these days. However, it quickly becomes obvious that Ella (Jane Edwards) is more desperate to lose the pounds in a bid to find love and acceptance. Despite her bubbly, self-assured exterior - she declares people find her "fat" and "really nice" - she's not as confident as she makes out. There's a startling vulnerability, particularly as Ella steels herself to do all the tasks required of her audition tape, and we're put in mind of those exploited by television shows like The X Factor.

Sarah Hehir's I Would Be Brave should be the most emotional piece of the night. It's certainly the most serious and touches the most difficult of issues - dealing with the prospect of a killer disease. The woman in this piece is getting ready to go into hospital, whilst still coping with the day-to-day. Unfortunately, Amanda Reede did struggle with her lines, but that's not why this monologue didn't really work for me. The shift in tone feels wrong, and rather than making me empathise with the character and weep for her hard luck, it did feel like the energy from the earlier pieces was seeping away. It was an odd choice by Moore to place this at the end.

Increasing female representation is only admirable when the women concerned do actually deserve their place, and The Thelmas certainly prove that they've earned it. Some may be more throwaway than others and some may not fit at all, but that doesn't take away from the intention behind this work. Although it might not garner the more passionate feminists on side that many of these women were defined by the men in their lives - it would only pass the Bechdel Test by virtue of being monologues - it's something that women wanted to produce. And despite it not giving itself the feminist title, isn't that choice at the heart of the movement?

Ladylogue! opened on 12th August and runs until 16th August 2014, as part of the Camden Fringe.

Nearest tube station: Leicester Square (Piccadilly, Northern)

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