“Ultimately, the two strands explosively converge, unifying the themes and messages into a poignant harmony”
It’s not easy being a female actor; being subjected to vacuous roles that are simply there to support men, being told you have an expiry date, and fearing being exploited to serve the male gaze. And that’s just to name a few of the tribulations. Having to navigate all of that while also pregnant, I can only imagine to be a total nightmare. Lily Lowe-Myers and Robyn Cooper (who, yes, are pregnant) have created an opportunity for themselves with Welcome…?, a play which crucially is not just a good ‘pregnancy play’, but an intellectual and emotional power-punch in its own right.
Welcome…? sees two plot threads run parallel – that of Lowe-Myers attempting to write the play, and that of her attempts to play out the story being written in real time, featuring herself as Larissa, a scientist, and Cooper as Rachel Smith, a purposeless woman trying to create meaning in her life. The former plays out as a satirical critique on the opportunities and representation of pregnant women, as well as conventional story structures and the process of writing itself, while the latter explores the anxieties of finding meaning and purpose, and how those expectations can be imposed on babies. Ultimately, the two strands explosively converge, unifying the themes and messages into a poignant harmony.
The writing is sharp, creative, and delivered expertly by both Lowe-Myers and Cooper. Particular gems were a scene between Rachel Smith and her mother, in which the bar is raised for how much subtext an iron can deliver, and a scene in which the pair act out a plot created by a short story generator. Unfortunately, the crackling energy of these sequences, that is also aided by Matt Costain’s thoughtful direction, is fizzled out by some very long scene changes while the actors rearrange the largely unnecessary-feeling set.
Despite some stunted pacing, however, Welcome…? delivers a perfect blend of humour, pathos, and a keen perception of the world. It’s a galvanising work that makes bold and exciting strides in dramatising pregnancy in subversive ways, that is fully deserving of huge audiences.
“it doesn’t quite hold together, and theatrically-speaking, falls out of the sky”
Inspired by the mysterious disappearance of Amelia Earhart, the first woman to fly solo across the Atlantic, this mono-opera is something of a solo transatlantic endeavour itself. British-American soprano Kathryn Frady brings to London the role of Amelia, a homeless woman who is convinced she is actually the lost aviator. The piece, which was commissioned by the singer in her capacity as Artistic Director of Knoxville’s Marble City Opera, is part of an appealing schedule of events hosted by the Bridewell Theatre for the ‘Opera in the City’ festival.
James Marvel’s set and costume design places us in the homeless universe of scrappy belongings and ill-matched garments. Centre stage, a makeshift plane, comprising a shopping trolley, ironing board and tin foil, accompanies Frady as she expresses her relationship with the elements and regard for the ‘box with wings’ on which she depends. The strength of her voice and stage persona do justice to the real Earhart who was known for her strident manner. Amelia Earhart’s is not a one-dimensional story, however. She was elusive in life as well as death, in part due to her belief in managing her own public image and mythology. It is this enigmatic quality of an ungrounded reality that the composition itself is most successful in conveying.
The libretto by Brad Carroll is a neatly-phrased tale of delusion, allowing Amelia’s weather-related exhilarations and torments to play equally as either those of a solo aviator or a homeless person. This ambiguity allows Larry Delinger’s restless composition to create an atmospheric, metaphysical mood. The Blues and Jazz influences he embraces as fundamental to the American classical tradition lend his work a formless, riffing quality which starts well, matching the video projections of shifting skies designed by Kathryn Frady herself. Laurie O’Brien on piano plays fluidly, but without light and shade or progression in tonality, the music drifts somewhat. Perhaps this is intentional, to convey the predicament of both Amelias as they hover interminably, unable to land, but it does so soporifically. It is a relief, then, and an effective conclusion, when the homeless Amelia emerges from her fantasy to sombrely face her true situation.
Orville Wright once said his rivals failed to create powered flight because they had concentrated on power rather than balance. Though a brave attempt, this production too seems to lose its way for the same reason. Kathryn Frady’s belting mezzo-soprano and Wagnerian style would be majestic with a different piece and on a larger stage. In a small space, attached to an introspective and slightly aimless incantation, it doesn’t quite hold together, and theatrically-speaking, falls out of the sky.