Bechdel Theatre’s look at the Bechdel Test in life, the test is usually associated with the screen following Alison Bechdel’s 1985 comic strip looking at the failure of women to find a tale that was about them, rather than women talking about men. Bechdel Testing Life are currently fundraising to go to Edinburgh this year.
The timing of this weekend (22-23 July) of four Bechdel appropriate plays is apt considering the recent criticism of Hampstead Theatre’s lack of female writers in its upcoming season. It is disappointing to know, not just through this project and Herstory but throughout London there are some brilliant contemporary writers who identify as female and Hampstead’s suggestion that there isn’t interest isn’t just insulting, it is inaccurate.
On a more positive note Shakespeare’s Globe announced the appointment of Michelle Terry, a skilled and emotionally intelligent actress whose work ranges from Shakespeare to working extensively with Katie Mitchell. Terry has also been vocal, as a new mother, about opportunities in the arts. Her high profile will not only be good for a Globe, that is recovering from the appointment of Emma Rice but also her dismissal.
Writer: Rabiah Hussain
Director: Lotte Ruth Johnson
A tale of two sisters; One aspirational, a response to her shame and distance from her past (Katherine Hurley) and the other who embraces the lifestyle and home she grew up in (Libby Rodliffe). Hussain’s tale really rang true to me. A story about selective memory as well as having memories that never leave you. Hurley’s Amy growing up resentful and leading to estrangement from her late mother contrasts with the arty Alex (Rodliffe). A modern look at life and one of the stories of the night that realises that Bechdel Test should not dismiss all relationships.
Slow Ripening Fruit
Writer: Lizzie Milton
Director: Nastazja Somers
Directed by “The Hardest Working Woman in Theatre” (copyright me) Somers recently starred in Torn Apart (Dissolution) and curated Herstory. This play follows on from themes I now associate with Somers; Queer thinking, straight talking issues women face. Milton’s story focuses on three friends, distanced by time and secrets. The things they had in common; sexuality and drinking are still there but Acushla-Tara Kupe’s character’s bisexuality remains an issue (One of the things I questioned from the play was whether the other characters (Julie Cheung-Inhin and Michelle Barwood) were even still lesbians. Their sexuality as adults being less of a focus compared to their teenage years in Croydon.
Friends, Football Friends
Writer: Guleraana Mir
Director: Madelaine Moore
This tale about generational identity in an increasingly hostile society worked beautifully as a short play, funny and relevant but of the four was the one I could imagine being a TV series, in the vein of Acklerly Bridge. It also contained, in a night of strong performances, my favourite performance of the night from Rekha John-Cheriyan as a mother who is alarmed at the casual racism from friends she should trust and even more alarmed at her daughter’s insistence of wearing a hijab. Kuran Dohil plays the daughter with charm and sass, I adored her scenes with the unseen teachers and both actresses were supported by experienced and talented actress Jennifer Lim, whose Auntie Maya is the devil on her friend’s shoulder.
Writer: Isley Lynn
Director: Hannah Hauer-King
A moving tale from Isley Lynn of an artist and her sister. One has the breast cancer gene and the other doesn’t. One feels optimistic about her breast removal and the other guilt. The quiet intimacy of this play, where Lucy Thackeray spends most of it topless as she awaits her sister’s (Holly Augustine) clay to make a reminder of her bust (in the form a bust) . Not only is it tastefully done but it asks, much like Binnacle, important questions about inheritance and legacy.
Much like Herstory it was great to see a diverse look at women and their stories. The Bechdel test is not as limiting as some creatives seem to think, allowing writers to look at matriarchal relationships and friendships, often warm yet often toxic it can create interesting drama (and the large number of men in the audience proves it isn’t just for women.