This year I have the great privilege of getting to cover lots of the Camden Fringe shows, my only regret is that I can’t see them all (literally impossible, so many shows running, Londoners check it out, it is a treasure trove of varied goodies).
I kicked things off with a double-bill at the Tristan Bates. My first show When It Happens kicked off at 6.15pm. The opening moments of the show are tense, setting you up for a gritty hour of theatre, however, within minutes the audience as a whole were laughing, defusing the tension without totally dispelling it. Playwright (and actor) Rachel Causer has written a beautifully balanced, engaging show. Technically, one could argue that these are three short plays threaded together, but the overlaps and connection between the three really make this a cohesive whole.
This is a show that asks the question, what would happen if women stopped accepting the micro-aggression they are exposed to on a daily basis? The everyday, mundane details of their lives ground the piece, while the almost mythic transformation elements elevate it, bringing to life the chaos women might unleash if they decided they had had enough of the everyday bullshit. The show revolves around 3 archetypes: The Virgin, The Mother and The Whore.
Rachel Causer as Jenny, “the Virgin”, is endearing and bubbly, bursting to tell her story. She convincingly brims with an energy fueled by her transformation. She revels in her rebellion.
Roisin Bevan as Beth, “The Mother”, has amazing comic timing, bringing the self-deprecating elements of a single mother’s struggles to life in an extremely engaging way. It really raises the question, how can you be a good parent, if you never believe you’re good enough?
Niamh Watson as Freya brings a sense of darkness to the piece. She is the first on stage, but the last to share. In her blood-spattered top, even as we laugh at the other stories, we can’t help feeling nervous about what we’ll learn when it comes to her turn. She is “The Whore” of the piece, a title given to her not earned. Niamh Watson imbues her with a very compelling edginess, sustaining our interest in her story to the very end.
In addition to sharing their individual stories, the 3 actors flow seamlessly between the supporting characters, animating each story and adding so much in the way of comedy and context. Kennedy Bloomer has directed this show beautifully, allowing each section to breathe without feeling bitty. I laughed a lot, and these days we all need to laugh more.
“When it Happens” feels very timely, and it has made me think a lot about female complicity (via acceptance) of everyday sexism, and unrealistic images of motherhood. What would happen if we all stopped playing along?
Next on my double bill was “Class” a verbatim show about Class from the perspective of the working classes. Created by Alyce-Louise Potter with Kelsey Short the show starts at full pelt. It took me a moment to adjust my brain to the rhythm of it, but literally just a moment, and from the reactions of the audience around me, who were laughing from the very beginning, my brain was being a bit slow. I was quickly happy to surrender to the flow of the show.
“Class” is made up of lots of performed short clips of interviews with different working class people. You soon realise that what feels like lots of disconnected soundbites, actually focuses on a small group of people that we re-visit. This gives the show a wonderful sense of cohesion and narrative growth. What I particularly loved about “Class” is the generosity of spirit behind it. Yes, we are invited to laugh a lot within this show, but it is always WITH the different interviewees (I hate to call them characters when they are real, it diminishes them so, and this show is all about illuminating not diminishing). There is a joyful self-deprecation and a defiant pride that threads through all the different perspectives. Alyce has cleverly cut and stitched together the pieces of the interviews into tasty bite-sized morsels that work together to create a satisfying patchwork whole. A delicious theatrical buffet, if you will.
As creators and performers, Alyce-Louise Potter and Kelsey Short successfully inhabit the different people they are bringing to life on stage. Class in Britain is something I’ve always struggled to get my head around (cos I’m foreign innit! I mean I’ve only lived here since I was 2 years old, still confuses me). It is reassuring to see that the working classes are as fuzzy about its definition as I am. Is it about money? Is it about accent? Is it about having to graft? Is it about owning your own home? Is it about education? Is it about geography? Can it be about geography in a place like London where posh houses might only be separated from council estates by a street? Can you change class in your lifetime, or are you always what you were born into? Is class a case of self-identity?
‘Class’ doesn’t look to answer all these questions. It simply looks to share a working class London perspective on the subject. I loved the pride, the humour and the pragmatism of the interviewees. I wanted to spend more time with them. But the show ended, as all shows must, and it’s always best to leave us wanting more.
The one question discussed by at least one of the interviewees, that stabbed at my heart and my brain was “what comes below the working classes?” In these times of ugly political discourse, there is such an absence of respect towards working class people, “Class” provides a much needed change of perspective. If you are ready to ditch your preconceptions(assuming you are Middle to Upper class that is), open your ears and laugh (through your mouth, not your ears, I’m not insane), ‘Class’ is the show for you.