I signed up to four of the six shows on offer during Popelei Theatre’s Press Play festival (on until 2 November).
A season of new digital performances written and performed by a female-led creative team, Press Play offers bite-sized chances to escape from the worries of the current world situation.
Three audio plays and a short film comprise my selection: Feast, by Eimear O’Neill; Mirrors, by babirye bukilwa; Half Acre, by Katie Arnstein; and You Give Me Butterflies, by Maria Askew and Julia Correa.
With each piece inviting the listener to put on headphones and to sit in a particular place, they form a welcome pause from the current madness around us. Whether you are inside or outside, alone or in a crowded house, Press Play should be able to offer something to you.
Popelei have used the tag #WomenInLockdown to promote this festival on social media, and it seems appropriate given the traditionally female preoccupations in both Feast (cooking, and a touch of witchcraft) and Mirrors (beauty, and emotions). Of course it also highlights the creativity displayed by female writers during this pandemic.
Half Acre, the piece I felt the most connection with, concerns a teenage girl constantly on the move during childhood who finds it hard to make friends and connect to others. Written to be experienced on a park bench, Arnstein’s richly developed character of a girl seeking her own place in the world packs a lot of detail into ten minutes.
I found Mirrors less successful, perhaps as it involves listening while looking at your own reflection, which can be distracting. Utilising overlapping voices and repetition, the piece is full of questions and observations, building to a slightly disturbing whole.
In Feast, at your kitchen table, we meet a friendly Irish lady (Joyce Greenaway) who invites you into a world of bubbling pans and cooking aromas, which slowly turns into an exploration of the power of suggestion to conjure up memories. It is very strong on the place and significance of women you may have met in the past, and has a very effective section which pulls the listener in.
The short film I watched, You Give Me Butterflies, feels more of an improvisation than a finished piece, as the two women converse and chat from their respective Zoom windows. Bees and butterflies are seen in segments scattered between the calls, and I get the freedom motif, but I felt there was more to explore than could be shown in the time slot.
Press Play shows can be booked at Popeleis website, and tickets are free. The festival is produced by Emma Blackman, The music in the plays is composed by sound designer Santiago Jara Astaburuaga.