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Ladylogue!
Tristan Bates Theatre
20th August 2015

★★★★☆

Publicity image for Ladylogue!

Photography provided by The Thelmas

When it comes to the arts, I much prefer casting gender-blind and, well, everything else-blind to trying to find a specific "look". I've seen some fantastic shows where the actors on the face of it haven't really been an obvious visual match for the parts, but have won me over instantly with sheer talent. That's what really matters in this business: talent. Positive discrimination doesn't always work well, but The Thelmas aren't just trying to create plays starring women written and directed by women because there aren't enough females in theatre - they're doing it because their company and associate artists are all bloody brilliant. Who just happen to have two X chromosomes. You can't really argue with that.

This year's production of Ladylogue! is the second attempt by The Thelmas to show off the female talent they've rounded up, and it's an even stronger version than last year's. Six monologues cover loss, identity and complicated family dynamics. Madelaine Moore directs each separate piece, keeping the pacing up, but unfortunately not quite managing to keep to the advertising running time, with the action lasting 90 minutes straight through. It is however a delightful hour and a half.

In Lucy Foster's Ghost, Alex (Kim Burnett) is getting ready for an interview. She seems really positive, with her head in a book of interview tips and relaxing in a comfy waffle dressing gown, but this interview has a concealed importance to it, and it also rakes up a lot of old insecurities. There's a hidden depth to Ally, who may initially be an entertaining mix of big grins and daft panic, but is carrying some heavy baggage and still struggling to cope with a close bereavement. Burnett predictably deals well with this complex role, with her character both making us laugh heartily and stop to reflect quietly.

Loss is also explored in Sarah Milton's lyrical tale The Night Tella, in which a clubber (Joana Nastari) addresses her best friend, Amanda, reliving past memories with fond nostalgia before moving onto some less pleasant more recent ones. There's a lot of repetition, which at first seems unnecessary, but we then realise the character is deliberately stalling, unwilling to get to the question she doesn't want to ask. It's the only piece of work which is so inherently tragic; the others are at least in part comedies. This causes a shift in tone with the room becoming more sombre.

At the other end of the spectrum, Maria Yarjah writes and performs Family (Mis)fortunes, which is easily the highlight of the evening. Her character, a college student, lives her life through social media. When she underestimates her ageing father's ability to master Facebook, there are hilarious consequences. Yarjah's impersonations of her character's dad really ramp up the humour. Her self-righteous indignation is comedic in part because she's ridiculous, but also because we would all secretly hate to be in her position and can understand completely how she ended up there. I mean, there but for the grace of... Two clicks and some privacy settings. It's very well written and acted.

Mina Maisuria's My Sons Are Doctors is another wildly funny monologue, this time performed by Asha Kingsley. With a trolley laden with BOGOFs, the character here is hiding from another mum because she's sick of all the bragging. If we're honest, we judge her straight away by the boxes of chocolate eclairs and bags of Wotsits in her trolley (she who buys junk food cannot be a stuck up cow), and our expectations are realised. She's a down-to-earth, hugely relatable protagonist, who loves her family and is a big fan of certain grapefruits. A pleasure to spend time with.

In Madeline Gould's Ladykiller, a cleaner (Hannah McClean) is panicking over what to do with a dead guest. Being reported for stealing? End of the world. Killing one of the clients? Eh, not so bad. The cleaner tries to explain to us what's happened, and why it's not her fault, with some wonderfully funny dialogue and plenty of twists and turns. McClean is convincing as the accidental murderer.

Serena Haywood's Zero closes the night; a monologue about an ex-HR professional called Gillian (Sarah Cowan) who after an unmitigated disaster at work retreated to her tiny bedsit and became agoraphobic. Trapped by a crippling fear of leaving her one safe space, she uses fantasy and forums to try to keep a sense of purpose to her life. Like the piece before it, The Night Tella, it's somewhat slower than the other short plays. It's also perhaps the hardest to follow - in places, I wasn't sure how much was real and how much was in Gillian's mind. Perhaps that's the point, but it does require a touch more effort from the audience.

Collectively, there's really only one way to describe this bunch of all-female monologues: a roaring success. If this sort of production is what an all-female company can pull off then yes, I'd like to see more women in the arts. The Thelmas have done themselves proud.

Ladylogue! opened on 18th August and runs until 22nd August 2015 at the Tristan Bates Theatre, as part of the Camden Fringe.

Nearest tube station: Leicester Square (Piccadilly, Northern)



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