Forge – The Vaults
Reviewed – 14th February 2020
“the raw energy and directness of These Girls in this original show guarantees a multi-layered and intensely nuanced performance piece”
Think crime and female sleuths and your minds will probably go to the likes of Miss Marple, Precious Ramotswe and Jessica Fletcher.
But in “Bible John,” an enjoyable and informative new show as part of the VAULT Festival, These Girls theatre company explain that many women today are hooked on true crime podcasts, with one group of female office workers turning detective to investigate a serial killer at work in 1960s Glasgow.
This is no mere “Murder, She Podcasted.” The play successfully treads a fine line between exploring the impact such an interest in grisly murders may have on its fans, with a deeper question about male violence against women and how society treats victims, and producing a funny and entertaining festival show.
Writer Caitlin McEwan, Renee Bailey, Carla Garratt and Louise Waller play the four ordinary temps who discover they share a morbid fascination with true crime, and with a podcast reinvestigating the Bible John murders by American journalist Carrie LaRue.
Unravelling the facts from the speculation they find this sharing of the story is cathartic and empowering, while also understanding that they need to recognise this isn’t a piece of crime fiction, but a case involving true life: “This is about real women’s lives, not a game of Sudoku!” says one as the girls ignore their work demands and instead journey down a rabbit hole in search of evidence and meaning.
On a plain stage with office chairs, a screen and just a few props the four performers, under the tight and bold direction of Lizzie Manwaring, ensure there is a palpable sense of rage and irritation which can only send audiences out thinking about general attitudes towards women and the dangers of obsession in any form.
The infectious buzz of the production is aided further by Laurie Ogden’s movement direction, which captures the liberation of women who just want to dance and the release of pent-up frustration.
Just as in the unsolved murders committed by Bible John 50 years ago, this show has no ending – other than to recognise that there is no ending, that things can’t be tied up neatly, and that there are still too many anonymous victims of male violence.
The final reminder of the victims’ names with their pictures on screen underlines the powerful point that all crime has victims who must never remain an anonymous part of a story. But the raw energy and directness of These Girls in this original show guarantees a multi-layered and intensely nuanced performance piece.
Reviewed by David Guest
Photography by Ali Wright
Reviewed – 17th June 2019
“There is violence, despair and a moment of unrealised revelation, and Blair handles it all with a deft understanding”
This story of an Italian American family in nineteen sixties Brooklyn shines a light on the experiences of first and second generation immigrants, and the struggles faced by the women in particular. It is loosely based on writer Meghan Kennedy’s mother’s adolescence and the life of her big Italian Catholic family. Kennedy wants to honour the voices of girls from families like this who, both in the past and currently, have to fight to be heard. Six of the eight actors on stage are female, putting women’s experiences at the centre of the action.
The Muscolino family live in a Brooklyn tenement, and their story is told through a series of almost cinematic scenes that unveil the lives of the family members. The mother, Luda, brilliantly played by Madeleine Worrall, cooks and cares for her husband Nic and three daughters. But her family are not happy, and she is unable to cry. She can’t even talk to God anymore, as her husband has beaten up their daughter Vita, so she talks to an onion instead. Vita, vividly brought to life by Georgia May Foote, does not regret protecting her younger sister Francesca from their father’s rage, which was triggered by her cutting her hair short, and, although she has no wish to be in the convent she’s been sent to, she can appreciate the peace and calm there; a real contrast to her home life. Tina, the eldest, feels guilty that she didn’t stand up to their father and protect her sister. She is caught in a dead end job, denied schooling to help provide for her family, and Mona Goodwin does a lovely job of portraying her low self esteem and doubts. They are all caught in their own narratives, and those narratives are really all about love.
Francesca is in love with her friend Connie, and they are planning to run away to France. They dance to ‘Bee Bop A Lula.’ pretend to smoke cigarettes and look forward to a life where they can be their true selves. Hannah Bristow’s Francesca is feisty, funny, brave and full of the optimism of youth. Laurie Ogden plays Connie with tenderness and gentle determination, as the girls plan their escape.
Connie’s father is Albert, the local butcher and he is in love with Luda, she clearly likes him too, but she is faithful to her husband, even though he is greatly changed from the man she fell in love with. The two men are complete opposites; Stephen Hogan gives Albert a wistful gentleness that beautifully contrasts with Robert Cavanah’s frighteningly violent Nic. Cavanah’s performance has more than a touch of Marlon Brando about it, and the times when we see the man he used to be are unexpectedly touching.
The final character is Celia, played by Gloria Onitiri, a black woman who works with Tina at the factory. She is a happily married woman who loves reading and Onitiri plays her with spirit. The two women become friends, and when Tina asks Celia ‘how does it feel to be loved’ it brought a tear to my eye.
When a dreadful and completely unexpected tragedy strikes the whole area all their lives are turned upside down.
Napoli, Brooklyn is wonderfully directed by Lisa Blair. There are some standout moments, such as the mesmerisingly tender scene when Francesca and Connie gaze into each other’s eyes and mime undressing. There is violence, despair and a moment of unrealised revelation, and Blair handles it all with a deft understanding. The set, designed by Frankie Bradshaw, is atmospheric and gives a great sense of place and time. Johanna Town and Max Pappenhem created the lighting and sound, adding to the sensory impression of the setting, which was occasionally enhanced by the delicious smell of food.
This is a play that has a firm sense of time and place, but deals with themes that are just as relevant today. Beautifully acted and directed, it is definitely one to see.
Reviewed by Katre
Photography by Marc Brenner
Park Theatre until 13th July
Last ten shows reviewed at this venue: