“Sacha Voit and Jessica Butcher have written a very good play. If they were to pare down the problems a bit they could turn it into an excellent one”
A line from the show’s publicity is a good introduction to this play. “A funny, heartbreaking adventure through forests, friendship and Femfresh that reveals the loneliness of age and the power of Mother Nature.”
Willow works as a pharmacist, patiently listening to people’s problems and trying to help. Liz, an elderly customer, doesn’t think Willow looks like a pharmacist – she is a young black woman and doesn’t fit the stereotype. But Liz doesn’t fit the old lady stereotype either. She is feisty and funny, keeping her husband in the utility room, walking in the woods smoking and swearing. She is also very good at putting her foot in it. These two very different women talk to the audience and to each other, stripping off the defensive layers they have built up to protect themselves. In the process they discover a shared love for trees. Willow is writing an article and a book about the Wood Wide Web, the underground network of mycorrhizal fungi that link trees underground, allowing them to communicate and share resources. But something in her past makes her afraid in the woods. When Liz persuades her to join a protest against the destruction of the trees to make way for a new superstore, Willow is forced to revisit a terrible memory and to begin the healing process.
Tanya Loretta Dee is funny and moving as Willow; unravelling from the patient pharmacist, with a wry and sometimes hilarious take on her customer’s inability to speak about body parts, to a damaged and vulnerable woman. Nadia Papachronopoulou’s direction and Quang Kien Van’s movement direction give her some nicely stylised physical tropes.
Amanda Boxer’s Liz is engaging, surprising the audience with her quirky eccentricities and swearing. The bad times in her past are revealed straight to the audience without her ever giving way to sympathy seeking. She is very funny, but there is a double layer in the comedy, as humour is a good deflector of sadness.
Papachronopoulou makes good use of Lia Waber’s outstanding set in her direction and allows the two characters to combine naturalism with just the right amount of stylisation. Jack Weir’s lighting design and Chris Drohan’s sound help to tell the story with some lovely atmospheric touches.
Although Boots is a strong production, it does feel as though too many problems have been crammed into the fabric of the play. An hour and fifteen minutes is not really long enough to carry a narrative that includes a dead baby, postnatal depression, racism, ageism, infertility, loneliness, rape, the destruction of nature, incontinence and other ageing related issues. Sacha Voit and Jessica Butcher have written a very good play. If they were to pare down the problems a bit they could turn it into an excellent one.
“Heretic Productions should be warmly congratulated for giving an opportunity to three relatively new women’s voices that may well otherwise have remained unheard”
Last year Heretic Productions announced a rare opportunity for writers from all backgrounds to see their work published and fully produced on the main stage at the Arcola Theatre in Dalston. The rules were specific in that the work must not have previously been performed professionally, have a running time of between 15 and 45 minutes, be a monologue and be performed in English.
A nationwide search opened in May 2017 which received over one thousand submissions. A shortlist of nine was then given to a panel and from these, three works were chosen to be produced. Those are now presented collectively as Heretic Voices and are Woman Caught Unaware by Annie Fox, Dean McBride by Sonya Hale and A Hundred Words for Snow by Tatty Hennessy.
This was my first visit to The Arcola Theatre which is housed in a converted paint factory and I was impressed with the design and feel of this vibrant venue. On entering the main theatre there is a basic set of a white square on the floor and each of the plays makes full advantage of the minimalist design. Seating is on three sides and the audience close to the action. The evening begins with all three actors entering before two depart to leave only seasoned actor Amanda Boxer on stage and we are about to experience Woman Caught Unaware.
This is about Mary, a sixty something professor that many graduates will identify with, who discovers there is a photograph of her that has gone online. It is the story of an older woman being photographed without her permission, her being naked in a changing room. The image is shared and she is mocked online. The monologue allows her to tell her side of the story without interruption during which we learn more about body shaming and the emotions that kind of humiliation brings.
It is a challenging role for an older woman which, in the main, Boxer takes in her stride. There are a couple of moments of slight hesitation in her delivery but given this was only the second performance it didn’t detract from the overall enjoyment of the performance. It is funny, moving and thought provoking.
Next on was Ted Reilly, many will know him as Johnny Carter from Eastenders, who plays Boy in Dean McBride. This is a story of a boy growing up on a Croydon council estate and sees part of his life from his 10 and 16 year old points of view. It is a vivid story of loss, deprivation, suffering and redemption through love. He struggles through life before finding his way back to happiness.
Reilly uses the stage floor well and has a strong physicality about his performance. Some of the language is both ‘strong’ and ‘street’ and the writing takes the audience on a journey to a place many would not want to go. Disappointingly Reilly had to refer to the printed script in the last few minutes and hopefully this will not be the case in future.
Following a short break it was the turn of Lauren Samuels who gave an outstanding performance in A Hundred Words for Snow. Brilliantly written and expertly acted it is a story of a teenage girl who runs away from home with her father’s ashes to visit the North Pole. It looks at the complexities, joys and difficulties of being a teenage girl. Samuels appears fresh from her run in Romantics Anonymous at The Globe, which finished on Saturday. She is a consummate professional and was quite incredible as Rory. The audience reaction at the end was a fitting tribute to her 5 star performance.
In conclusion each performance is well performed and directed with effective yet minimal set, lighting and sound support. Heretic Productions should be warmly congratulated for giving an opportunity to three relatively new women’s voices that may well otherwise have remained unheard.