“had all the ingredients conceptually, but the reality of the production was overshadowed by the bizarre theatrical components of the performance”
On International Women’s Day, a group of powerful women (and one man) began their journey from the spacious bar of Chapel Playhouse into the basement where The Blood Tales awaited. The promise of being transported ‘into the mystical landscape of a woman’ was present in our minds as we walked together down the industrial staircase into the darkly lit cave of the theatre. It seems important to place some context upon the evening, since the performance promised to touch upon the very pressing issue of the female blood cycle. There are around ‘Two billion women of menstruating age around the world’, with ‘137,700 children in the UK having missed school because of period poverty.’ With these facts looming in our minds, and with a predominantly female audience waiting, there couldn’t have been a better night for this experimental one-woman show.
However, ‘The Blood Tales,’ performed and written by Kate Joyner and directed by Palma Morena Greco lost its meaning at times to the obscurity of the performance. That isn’t to say that all meaning was lost, as Joyner did at times delve beautifully into the topic at hand, communicating through her richly descriptive and onomatopoeic language the natural movement of blood in a woman’s body. In particular, her repetition of ‘the time’ in one poem created a great rhythm that complemented her undulating movements. Her poetry touched upon some interesting topics; including the role Disney plays in poisoning young women’s minds into believing there is a prince for everyone. This was a really effective inclusion, and I wanted her to do more with it, to explicitly challenge societal views of menstruation by confidently calling them out.
The performance comes with the built in assumption that the audience already knows a lot about Kate Joyner. The show was accompanied by traditional Spanish music, which unfortunately failed to offer anything to the poetry, since there was no obvious connection between the two. Furthermore, the transition in and out of sections felt fumbling and unpracticed. Joyner often interrupted her own performance, using the presence of another personality to interject intense and indulgent moments. At times the interruption worked well, as it pulled her from some intensely erratic moments, which could be quite uncomfortable at times.
The piece had all the ingredients conceptually, but the reality of the production was overshadowed by the bizarre theatrical components of the performance. A lot of the production needed explaining afterwards, as some of the props didn’t translate to the audience. Instead of developing and exploring the interesting and current points raised, our attention was often buried amongst scenes of drinking blood and smoking cigarettes. Her aim of bringing us closer to this taboo subject unfortunately had the opposite effect at times, as her portrayal of the female menstruation cycle seemed quite foreign and untouchable.
“Devas’ script is brilliant, his jet-black comedy works perfectly to confront such a difficult issue”
We’re Staying Right Here, written by Henry Devas and directed by Jez Pike, tells the story of Matt (Danny Kirrane) as he transforms from a red-cape wearing stand up comic to an unmotivated loser, hiding in his dingy flat with Tristabel (Tom Canton) and Benzies (Daniel Portman). The show perfectly grapples with the difficult topics of depression and suicide, using humour to highlight the deterioration of Matt’s mind. There is no escaping the war for Matt or for us it seems, as we all sat intensely grouped together in the small Park Theatre, the proximity of the room not allowing us to ignore Matt’s struggles for survival. But don’t worry, this isn’t your typical tale of doom and gloom for there is always a well-timed mum joke waiting to stop us from getting too close to Matt’s truth.
Matt is often buried amongst the trash, his half dressed existence pushed into the corner of Elizabeth Wright’s cleverly conceived room design. We watch Tristabel and Benzies prance around the small flat, repetitively cleaning, singing, arguing and relentlessly speaking about ‘going up.’ But what is up? As the play continues the audience is left in the dark (literally), helplessly trying to capture every piece of information that’s dropped like a weighted bomb into conversation. A perfect example of Dominic Brennan’s clever choice of music is when Benzies is crashing around the flat, packing bags and singing along to ‘Funky Town.’ Benzies joyfully sings (well, shouts) the lyrics ‘Talk about, Talk about,’ to which Matt violently refuses. In this moment, Pike artfully captures the crux of the issue, that there isn’t room in today’s society to talk about mental health, especially for men.
Devas’ script is brilliant, his jet-black comedy works perfectly to confront such a difficult issue. But be warned, there are some uncomfortably awkward moments. The well-timed jokes, which are incredibly funny and had the whole audience laughing out loud, interrupt such pivotal moments in the play. At times it felt like we were just about to gain territory, but just as we thought everything was moving in the right direction, it’s instantly snatched away. Devas artfully intertwines typical war language into the script, using our knowledge of past wars and of men’s struggles to shine, with the help of George Bach’s impressive lighting, a well needed spotlight onto the issue of mental health.
Wright’s stage design was beautifully done. Although basic in its conception, the simple design reflected Matt’s situation perfectly. The scattered rubbish and boarded up windows highlighted Matt’s inner turmoil and seemed typical of someone who is trying to shut the world out. The whole performance felt incredibly personal, as though we were sat inside the flat with the characters. The slightly claustrophobic environment felt symbolic of Matt’s struggles, with the audience representing Matt’s crowded and buzzing thoughts. The acting overall was superb. The actors bounced off of each other so well through their constant banter and button pushing.
We’re Staying Right Here is an impressive play that brilliantly tackles a very current issue.