Today’s Lockdown Review brings the spotlight to the pub theatre scene and to Bloom Theatre’s Saplings series of plays, performed at The Lion & Unicorn in Kentish Town just before lockdown and now made available on Bloom Theatre’s YouTube channel. Before we get into the plays themselves, let’s find out a bit more about Bloom.
Founded by playwright/producer Jack Albert Cook and designer Simon Rupert, Bloom Theatre is “dedicated to the weird and wonderful people of the world”. Creating and showcasing stories from the LGBTQ+ community, Bloom is a brand new company seeking to represent not just “white gay men”, but also queer, trans, non-binary, bi, lesbian, and disabled facets of that community.
Saplings is a flagship event for new writing by LBGTQ+ voices, presented in scratch performances. Small scale in this first year (and the plays online are only a sample of what was actually performed), there are ambitions to scale it up for the future. It’s all very exciting, and as this event was not on my radar before lockdown I’m pleased to be able to review some of the work, albeit second-hand on a screen.
Ribbons, by Gemma Lawrence
This play runs 15 minutes, and has two characters, Rachel and Pam. They are on a train, heading to Nottingham. They are a couple, united by beta blockers, Twixes, and their relationship with each other. They are going to meet a man who may be able to donate sperm for them to have a baby; like all prospective parents, they are scared, they are wondering whether they are doing the right thing, they are argumentative and affectionate.
Filmed like all the plays in this series from the back of the small theatre, you miss out on seeing facial expressions up close, and you need the captions to follow the dialogue – the set is also the same for all the plays, with just a slight change of props and lighting to distinguish a change of pace. These women are strong and in love, on their journey both physical and emotional into the next stage of their lives.
Directed by Ewa Dina, Jessica L Pentney (Rachel) and Isabella Hernandez (Pam) support each other’s life choices and even share the same taste in chocolate. Their queerness and their love for Twixes pulls them together, just as the theoretical baby they wish they could make together will surely do, if the “bloke from Nottingham” in the “blue Fiat” is acceptable to them.
Ribbons feels like the first act of a play which has potential to show a full character trajectory for Rachel and Pam, and their much longed-for child. I want to see what happens when they get off the train, the conversations they will have when they get back home, and the people who are their friends and support network. What is their back story, and where are they going?
A strong two-hander.
The System: Part II, by Matthew Gardner
This play runs 12 minutes, and concerns a therapy session between A (a school pupil, who has been referred for counselling), and B (a psychologist employed to assess A’s gender dysphoria). We see them in discussion, although B is not listening to what A is saying, and A is not responding to B’s textbook questioning about potentially being gay.
The disconnect between the pupil who is actually quite assured in some ways (yet states quite bluntly “what’s the point of being someone else when I’m not myself yet”) and the professional who doesn’t understand the concepts of gender fluidity or pansexuality, is very clearly articulated, and the exchange between the two feels very realistic.
As A, Catalina Croitoru is knowingly androgynous but perfectly composed; we are not quite sure whether we are seeing a boy or a girl (and actually it doesn’t matter) because of the cap and the posture. B (Paul Waggott) has a narrow focus as a therapist, as becomes apparent as he digs into matters of sexuality, identity, appearance and even surgery. Director Deanna Arthur centres her actors in one place, two chairs, but they may as well be in different universes.
The System: Part II brings the issue of gender fluidity and flux in children growing through puberty into sharp relief. We never find what caused A to be referred by his school, or what his family think (there’s an anecdote about an ex-girlfriend and a velvet dress, but otherwise the only insight we get into A’s parents are his dad asking “is there something you want to tell me” after asking for a suspect Christmas present).
A very well-written and performed one-act piece.
A Whole Fucking Case of You, by Alex Britt
I saw Alex Britt as an actor in Dumbledore is So Gay at the Vault Festival this year, and here he takes up the pen as the writer of a monologue from a woman who first joins us in the rain, then launches into a one-sided conversation with someone we can’t see. She talks about music and memories, about drinking merlot. She sits and seems both relaxed and tense. There’s something missing.
When we realise this is a tale of loss, of love unrequited (“I did love you, but not in the way you wanted”), of a death unforseen and premature, about songs which are “ruined” because our speaker links them with events she can no longer talk about to the friend who shared them, we understand. I did get lost slightly when another character was introduced briefly, but there’s nothing here in this 20 minute piece that cannot be unpicked and developed in a full-length play, say an hour long.
David Bolwell directs with a sympathetic ear to the text, and guides Ilaria Ciardelli through a performance which has to deal with anger, grief, and black comedy in a short timespan, as well as handling music, sound effects, and more. “You should have been enough for you, really”, says the speaker, standing, unable to cry, logging how many hours multiple plays of a particular record add up to.
I found this an excellent piece – it spoke to me on a personal level, and it worked well with the complex subject matter of both suicide and sexuality. This definitely has potential to grow.
PYNEAPPLE, by SPYCE Collective
This is the shortest of the four pieces, at 8 minutes, and is a snapshot, a conversation, between four women of colour discussing romance and race. Maya, Erycah, Lauryn, and Raye may be friends, may be colleagues: their chat has the feeling of a work break. It seems that the piece has been presented several times last year in a longer format, with an additional character, so this is a work-in-progress scene.
The SPYCE Collective describe themselves on their Facebook page as “a group of young female creatives … join us on our journey to self-love and acceptance”. PYNEAPPLE is written by Chantelle Alle and Melissa Saint, who also appear as Lauryn and Erycah respectively, and also features Ama Rose Mendy as Maya and Elise Palmer as Raye.
Discussing fruit (“Do I look like a mango?”), skin colour (“She’s not black because the black crayon is black, but she’s brown”), and men (what a handbook of chat-up lines for white men to use might include), the ladies in PYNEAPPLE. Funny, with an undertone of frustration, this is directed by Xanthus and made me want to see more.