Sparks & Cry God for Harry, England and St George!, Edinburgh Festival Fringe

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by Laura Kressly

Using the word ‘strong’ to describe women and girls is redundant. Putting up with all the trash that women have to deal with as a result of their gender, on top of everything else life throws at them, makes them strong by default. If they are queer, women of colour, disabled, working class, or fall in any other category that others them, this makes them even tougher because life is all the harder.

Two-woman musical Sparks by Jessica Butcher centres on one character, played by both performers. One is the primary narrator (Butcher) and the other (Anoushka Lucas) provides a soundtrack and emotional insight through songs. The story of a lonely woman navigating the horrors of the London dating scene is a familiar one, but there are much more serious things than dating that she is also dealing with. Her monologues to the audience are open and vulnerable; the music further serves to heighten that. Though her painful stories of love and loss have many audience members in tears by the end, an uplifting epilogue reminds us that we can handle our obstacles, including those that are the fault of the patriarchy.

Cry God for Harry, England and St George! features Muslim girls from Tower Hamlets’ Mulberry Theatre Company. The students from East London, along with director Sam Maynard, have used Shakespeare’s Henry V as a jumping off point for a new play. Growing up Muslim in a country that is increasingly Islamophobic and having a skin colour that is anything other than white means enduring racism and abuse at worst, and microaggressions at best. The story cleverly combines the white supremacist ‘Punish a Muslim’ campaign that was launched this year within the context of a group of girls rehearsing for a production of Henry V. The story examines Muslims’ responses – some of the girls are emboldened to fight the trolls threatening to disrupt their performance, others fear for their safety and pull out of the show. Whatever their leaning, these young women demonstrate strength and maturity beyond their years.

Though both productions have some of minor shortcomings, their positives carry much more weight. With scripts that effectively balances tension, struggle and triumph, these two shows are emotionally engaging, inspiring stories of women’s innate strength.

Sparks runs through 26 August.
Cry God for Harry, England and St George! runs through 11 August.

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