Reviewed – 27th January 2019
“The rapid-fire spoken word is dense and often too fast to catch everything, which adds to the confusion”
Opal Fruits is a young girl living on a South London council estate in the 1990s. Her pseudonym is her favourite candy. Holly Beasley-Garrigan, in her debut solo show, presents snapshots of the lives of four generations of working-class women growing up on the same council estate. She combines poetry, voice-overs, direct address, and internet jokes to tell their stories, while constantly coming back to the question: Is it possible to tell working-class narratives to middle-class audiences without being exploitative? With a recent rise in the ‘trendiness’ of working-class aesthetic – a brand of irony-culture made popular by the sort of people who would never notice if they’d dropped a twenty-pound note – Beasley-Garrigan can’t help feeling her show may be part of the problem.
Beasley-Garrigan begins naked behind a hanging duvet cover, asking an audience member to hand her clothes from the piles around the stage. Once dressed, she comes out saying this isn’t the show she wanted to make, but pitching a ‘working-class story’ was the only way she could get funding. Getting into the performance, she changes outfits to change characters. These women, we learn, are herself, her mother, her grandmother, and her great-grandmother. She rotates outfits at a dizzying pace. We’re barely given time to orient to each character before she switches to something else. The rapid-fire spoken word is dense and often too fast to catch everything, which adds to the confusion. The show is a kaleidoscope of fragments more than anything coherent.
Opal Fruits is a mess, but it’s a fun mess that Beasley-Garrigan seems to embrace. She’s a charismatic performer. We want to watch her. The natural ability to hold an audience allows her to get away with an underdeveloped patchwork piece that in different hands might lose people. It’s rough, but the raw material displays plenty of talent and lots of potential. The hour is as enjoyable and creative as it is eye-opening and challenging.
At the moment, Opal Fruits is mainly hindered by indecisiveness and insecurity. Beasley-Garrigan is deeply conflicted about how (or even whether) to tell her working-class story from the current distance she’s put between herself and her past. Her show will be immensely stronger once she grapples with these conflicts off-stage, removes all of her guilty, defensive apologies, and arrives prepared to stand behind her work. Most artists experience anxiety about representing their subjects the right way. None ever do it perfectly. While it’s tempting to try to excuse yourself from judgment with disclaimers (‘This isn’t the show I wanted to make,’ ‘My friend talked me into it’), they don’t accomplish anything, and only leave the artist sounding somewhat immature.
Beasley-Garrigan has a strong voice, a fresh presence, and a wonderfully imaginative mind. When she decides what she wants to say, and commits to an approach, she’ll be a powerful artist for the modern era.
Reviewed by Addison Waite
Part of VAULT Festival 2019