“a celebration of womanhood, revealing it in all its guts and glory”
Being a woman can be bloody difficult at times. It certainly can have its ups and downs. New play Graceful, with its all-female cast, tries to encapsulate these difficulties, finding an inventive way to shine a light on the complexities us ladies battle within ourselves daily. Through humour and heartache Graceful simply shares a snapshot in time within the lives of two women suddenly pushed together.
Seventeen year old Grace (Chloe Jane Astleford) is sent to live with a distant relative of her father’s while he checks himself into rehab to deal with his alcoholism. Thirty-eight year old Rhonda (Eleanor Dillon-Reams) is there to take Grace in. She’s single and has never been a mum. Grace is introverted and has never had a mum. Should these two women fulfil the mother and daughter roles? Or, are they destined be more like friends? While learning to cohabit with one another, and beginning to learn more about the other, their relationship intensifies once all their cards are put on the table. Catherine Brown and Asha Reid play Grace and Rhonda’s inner selves, serving as the commentators and judges of the characters’ actions and memories. Hearing the inner mechanisms of these women’s minds, allows the most personal of thoughts, desires and wishes to rise to the surface.
Having an insight into such intimate feelings, particularly that of women, feels refreshing, if not also very much of our time right now. With such movements as #metoo and #timesup gathering momentum, Graceful explores the effects of some of the issues these groups are wanting to abolish. Writer Hayley Ricketson does a pleasing job at highlighting other relevant matters encompassing women in 2018, making a distinction between what is worrying teenagers and what is worrying the middle-aged woman. Combined with themes of sexuality and the reclaiming of the female body, Graceful is a celebration of womanhood, revealing it in all its guts and glory.
Being character focused rather than story driven, means that the discussion of deeply buried emotions takes prestige over an action packed storyline, which at times, drags the ninety minute running time. However, director Mike Cottrell sensitively handles the material primarily about the female psyche. All four cast members give credible performances, yet I would like to see more of a facial/physical/verbal connection to the Inner Selves and the character they are the minds of. Despite the nit-picking, all in all, this is a solid new piece of work, adding to the much needed change of tides currently occurring, giving all women a voice.
“in Reice Weathers his lyrical style finds the perfect embodiment and exponent”
Ringo, a nickname imposed by a policeman who couldn’t pronounce his real name, is a displaced individual, living in a cardboard box in a park. The crouched, preoccupied form burbling away to himself on the darkened stage might be a familiar sight to many members of the audience as they enter the Blue Elephant Theatre in Camberwell, but his story is one of survival where many close to him have perished. An inner monologue opens out as the play starts and Ringo recalls his harrowing journey from child soldier to refugee, muses philosophically on his mental state and is transported by ecstatic reveries of his childhood, “Listening to voices I will never hear again.” The monologue culminates as he tries to reconnect with the receding shadow of his former self.
The show, by Flugelman Productions, is a partnership with refugee charities and creates a serendipitous link between the talents of an Australian dramatist now in his sixties, and those of this young South London actor. As a writer, Daniel Keene plainly has the ability to put himself in the shoes of others and express their stories through compelling structure and telling phrases. In interviews he professes a liking for poetry, a bare stage, and an underdog. “Boxman” provides all three, but in Reice Weathers his lyrical style finds the perfect embodiment and exponent.
The set by Jo Wright is limited to Ringo’s few belongings. Sounds of traffic and barking dogs (Sound Designer, Beth Duke) and occasional adjustments in the amount of daylight (Lighting Designer, Jess Bernberg) create an unembellished sense of the ordinary which allows Reice Weathers a simple canvas on which to create Ringo’s unnervingly cheerful character, as well as his often comic, sometimes horrifying and always vivid internal world. The characterisation was so convincing that in the Q&A afterwards a representative from the Refugee Council instinctively deferred to the bemused actor on the refugee experience.
The Blue Elephant is a community theatre whose work is far from parochial. In its support for refugees it addresses a pressing global issue, but it is also active in raising money and recruits. Their belief is that, in order to see the refugees as more than a statistic (according to UNHCR, 68 million people were forcibly displaced around the world in 2017), we must first see them as individuals. This short, one-man play is a powerful choice to deliver that objective, as it precisely reveals that inside each of those crouched figures there is a past, a childhood, a faltering trajectory. Edwina Strobl’s understated direction works well to frame the subject, though perhaps too hands-off in the build-up to the ending, but it is the central performance that stands out. Urgent, likeable, sad, powerful, but also original.