“we cry with her, we laugh with her, and, most importantly – we feel with her”
Julie (Debbie Bird) is a woman. 50 (or approaching). Divorcee. Not much of sex life. And she is – buzzing.
Julie did not have much luck with love in her life. Newly out of a loveless (and mostly sexless) marriage, she now strives to find herself in a new life. Introduced by her daughter to a fun Tinder world of “swipe right” and “swipe left”, Julie goes on her little Odyssey in a quest for new sexual adventures to validate her own attractiveness.
There is something amazingly fascinating about this kind of “theatrical nudity”. Theatre is – fundamentally – a lie. For the sake of cathartic experience, we are prone to suspend our disbelief for an hour or two and cry over a hunk in a huge headpiece who is pretending to be a lion. And yet, theatre this intimate, theatre that is capable of resonating with its audience to this extent can be completely enthralling. What is more – although this word may have completely lost its meaning at this point – this theatre is relatable.
When most roles are written for younger women and the best middle-aged female actors can hope for is a noble mother or faithful spouse, Bird’s piece portrays Julie only at the very start of her journey. Julie explores, plays and makes mistakes – she is alive. She learns a lesson and discover something about herself – something that is, admittedly, a tad naïve and quite “hip” and “empowering” – something that resonates, nevertheless. And not only with its target audience of (presumably) other middle-aged women who are “not ready to be put out to pasture yet”; I’d daresay it has a potential to resonate with every audience member.
A family show it is not, though. Sexual references are persistent throughout the entire seventy minutes. Although far from obscene, they are, indeed, quite daring. And usually very, very funny.
Debbie Bird is a remarkable performer and a skilled playwright. Alongside precise direction from Mark Farrelly, Buzzing is brought to life with a detailed and clever script, although the pacing near the end could have been improved. But it is her personality and acting that shines brightest – we cry with her, we laugh with her, and, most importantly – we feel with her.
“A fairy tale lexicon mixed with nursery rhymes meets with unbearable reality”
Edwards Lear: the great lyricist and poet, admired for his wit and obfuscating limericks. Shea Donovan, writer and star of ‘By the Light of the Moon’, performed at this years’ Clapham Fringe Festival, introduces him in the forward to the play, handed to me on my climb to the hidden theatre space above ‘The Bread and Roses’ pub. Beneath the light brevity of Lear’s rhyme, lie misfits and madness, indications of the darker bouts of depression he himself suffered, I learn, as I take my seat.
Shea explores the injustice served to women in the 1920s, who suffered from mental health problems which were undiagnosed and severely misunderstood. Lila is locked away in an asylum for women, abandoned by her family and forced to make sense of her life events. The one woman show amplifies a long-forgotten voice, resurrecting a story of sheer tragic import which we know to have been based on real circumstance faced by women. She flits from therapeutic chants of nonsensical rhyme and childish wails for her nan and her final friend Gertrude, to deeper poetry, darker moments which shed tragic clarity upon her own life.
Two wooden chairs sit at diagonal corners of the square space and are an intelligent addition to a featureless stage, accentuating a bareness and institutional coldness. They look uncomfortable and lifeless as they are left untouched throughout the play.
Shea enters clad in a plain white frock and with lose hair and light make-up, she brandishes a black cloth. At times, she crouches to meticulously scrub a small square of the floor. The image is Cindarella-esque contrasting with the 1920s music which chimes in the background at the change of scene, providing smooth structural progression and a richness of sound. This is a painful scene of female suppression laced in a fairy-tale picture-frame.
The lighting takes us from blue to rose as we travel from melancholy to past rosy realms of romance. Yet as the past is etched clear, the colour changes become sickly sweet.
Shea Donovan is superb as a 1920s innocent, wonderfully frank and observant, she pieces together her life. A moment of climax sees her spiralling into despair when she is asked the year and she cannot remember. Her masterful portrayal is raw as her confusion escalates rapidly to a sudden moment of anger and violence.
Indigo Arts Collective’s ‘By the Light of the Moon’ successfully achieves what this new theatre company set out to do, piecing together research from the past to speak to modern day audiences. A fairy tale lexicon mixed with nursery rhymes meets with unbearable reality. The contrast is stark; the injustice laid bare for all to see.