Show interview: The Big O (King’s Head)

Closing Saturday, but assured of a big future, The Big O is written/produced by Kim Cormack, directed by Lotte Ruth Johnson, and stars Jade Dowsett Roberts in the main role of Lucy.

Where: King’s Head Theatre

When: to 3 Jun

Ticket link:

We asked Kim and Jade to tell us more about this “personal voyage into sex, healing and connection”.

Production photo for The Big O

The Big O is a new play about female pleasure, feminism and vulnerability, where orgasms seem frustratingly out of reach. What should audiences expect?

Kim: The unexpected! The name of the show purposefully focusses on what protagonist Lucy focusses on, but like the subject of sex itself you come to realise that there are so many other subtopics, influences, nuances. Light and dark. Funny and challenging. I’d hope that audiences come away with a desire to talk more openly about sex, consent, and mental health.

Jade: Couldn’t agree more. The play touches on so many themes, and it’s evident so far from audience reactions that there is so much relatable content, regardless of gender or sexual orientation, there’s something to connect with for everyone. Audiences should expect lots of laughs, familiar sounding stories, hard hitting content, and sequins!

Both relatable and funny, The Big O tackles subjects which have started to become more within reach recently (I’m thinking of Sugar Coat as one example). Do you think shows on these topics are crucial to the theatre space?

Kim: 100%. The theatre is, always has been and always will be a platform for expression and a reflection of our society. The only way systemic issues and inequalities will ever be addressed is if they are highlighted, heard, seen and no longer coveted in taboo and shame.

So yes, I think it’s a natural home for these topics to be explored and will continue you be for creatives from every walk of life.

Jade: I feel like The Big O being staged in 2023 puts it up there with several other shows that are pushing the boundaries of theatre and new writing content.

It may be that I am hyper aware of it due to being a part of this production, but I have seen so many pieces of new writing this year at festivals that tackle similar themes as The Big O and there is absolutely a demand and interest in this kind of brutally honest writing.

Theatre has always been used as a tool to start discussion, and without a doubt, this show has had audiences conversing afterwards. Storytelling is powerful and impactful in creating social change, so it’s crucial for sure that it is used to delve into such themes.

Largely female-led, The Big O has been described as a “21st century response to Vagina Monologues. Was Eve Ensler’s work a crucial influence?

Kim: Funnily enough, and I am still ashamed of this, I hadn’t read or seen Vagina Monologues when I started to write the script.

About a year in, I was in a production of Vagina Monologues at Crescent Theatre, Birmingham (with an incredible Director and cast, we still call ourselves “the coven.”).And if anything, the play gave me more confidence when it came to telling the story.

As the script is a combination of my personal journey, the testimony of a few other men and women (plus some artistic license), I felt at times quite daunted…scrap that… outright terrified of sharing experiences relating to sexual preferences and trauma. What if I will be judged personally? How can I protect the wellbeing of the other people who contributed?

Then being in Vagina Monologues, plus early audience feedback from our Research and Development phase, gave me the courage to just go for it. Maybe not just courage, I think I was more angry.

Angry that so many issues explored in Vagina Monologues over 20 years ago were still an issue today. Angry for others. Angry for myself. I think that influenced me to be brave and risk being judged.

Jade: I too admit that I haven’t yet read Vagina Monologues but it’s certainly on my list for after the show’s run. I am a rebel at heart and love when artist throw bold and unapologetic content at their audiences.

For that reason I loved this script when picking it up and knew I wanted to be involved, not only for the moments of relevance for me but for the wider conversations I knew it would spark.

The Big O says “I AM HERE” with wit, honesty, and bravery, and the ripple effects of that on an audience are what make it a stand-out piece of theatre. And for that, I am sure Eve herself would enjoy it!

There seem to be many definitions of what it means to be “feminist” at the moment. What’s your take on some of the social media debates on the rights of women?

Kim: For me, it’s about equity and equality between the sexes. Feminism is beneficially to literally everyone, including men. But probably not misogynists. It’s a common misconception that feminists are “against men”, when the opposite is true.

If the enemy of Feminism is the Patriarchy (a way of thinking that is outdated, repressive/oppressive to everyone regardless of gender, seriously damages people), and the patriarchy is a system, not a gender, then to be a feminist does not mean we hate men.

Also… just an FYI… some of the most successful, attractive, intelligent and sought-after men identify as feminists. Tom Hardy, Mark Gruffalo, Ryan Gosling… ok, sorry I got distracted.

There’s a weird, internalised misogyny that I often find (upsettingly) in women. Sometimes that can be worst the kind. When your identity as a human being or professional is minimalised because of some ingrained notion that we should be in competition with each other for the wrong things.

That one woman’s experience, life goals or sexual identity could ever be the one-fit-for-all, and everything else is a cause for shame or bullying, is mind boggling. We have enough to deal with!

I do think that feminists get a hard time in the media. But then look at the age we live in with Sexual Predator Donald Trump planning to run again for presidency, Andrew Tate influencing a whole swathe of male and female minds into the dogma of misogyny and don’t get me started on how the press treated Meghan Markle.

The truth is that at the core of patriarchy is a fear of change, losing power and not fully understanding what an equal society would look like. Feminism embodies that courage to face uncomfortable truths, bias and the need to change things that have become “normal.”

Jade: Being a part of The Big O, my awareness of the Feminism debate in the media has become heightened. I was lucky enough to be a part of the research and development phase of the play last year, so I had a good concept of its themes before entering the rehearsal room in January.

Over the last year I have watched several TV series, read books, followed Instagram accounts and listened to lots of podcasts and Ted Talks that have really awoken me more so than ever to the fight for equality and equity for women and other marginalised groups.

With that said, our rehearsals were at times tough as a group of women coming together to tackle the themes in this play, our brilliant director Lotte Johnson worked tirelessly to set up a safe space for us to discuss, get angry, cry, laugh and dig deep in order to do this play justice.

What scares me is that whilst we look through history, there seems to be this constant repetition of fight for change and surge of support, followed by back lash and condemnation by the media, those who ultimately fear change.

Currently women in the Middle East and Iran fight for their rights to education and other freedoms, the USA is taking backwards steps in banning Women from the right make choices about their own bodies, Trans women’s rights are disregarded and all the while figures like Andrew Tate, as Kim mentioned are given platform to slur hatred and violence against women with much support. It’s terrifying.

Forcibly silencing people will always be the tool to maintain control and suppression, and it is down to all of us to speak up loudly for those who can not or are scared to. The Big O is brutally honest and shares stories and experiences that are very much every day occurrences, in a bid to ignite the want for others to share their experiences and for audiences to hopefully learn, grow and change for the better.

There is no gender or orientation to equality and equity. It really is down to us all to listen, educate ourselves (look at the sources you use to do this!), show compassion, and stand side by side with those who are oppressed.

Production photo for The Big O

What’s the best thing about playing at the King’s Head Theatre?

Kim: I literally did a happy dance when it was confirmed that we were programmed at King’s Head. It’s a dream for your first script to be at such an iconic venue for new and bold writing. As I am recovering from an RTA and live in Birmingham, I’ve had to experience King’s Head vicariously through other team members and the cast.

The Uni student in me from over a decade ago is still giddy that Mark Ravenhill, who I studied in my final year, is the Artistic Director of a venue that my work will performed at.

It’s a bit of a milestone, especially as a care leaver who was told she wouldn’t amount to much. I’m grateful for the opportunity and platform.

Jade: The Kings Head has been a dream. It’s one of the most well-known and respected Pub Theatres in London and has housed some incredible shows and so many talented actors in their earlier careers (Alan Rickman, Joanna Lumley to name but two) so to perform a three week run here with this wonderful cast is a huge career bucket list tick for us all.

The Pub itself is magical with its decor of posters and show memorabilia, not to mention the corridors upstairs where we warm up, walking up and down the floorboards, knowing that we stand in the footsteps of so many brilliant actors that have stood there before us.

Each of us have our own pre-show rituals and routines but honestly there is nothing more magical then being together in the dressing room and the theatre before the show, laughing, supporting each other and gearing ourselves up to enjoy the show.

There’s something so special about the intimate space that works so well with this play in particular and of course the audiences the theatre attracts. The staff and team at the Kings Head have been so encouraging and kind to us too during the run.

There’s exciting times ahead for the theatre as they expand into a new space just alongside the current theatre, and I am excited to see its development and growth in 2023.