by Laura Kressly
It’s no secret that the social class system in this country has marginalised the working classes, with women pushed to the absolute fringes of society. To the world outside their immediate circle, sometimes no bigger than the street they live on, they are invisible. Solo shows Opal Fruits and Dangerous Lenses, though radically different in style, seek to change that by centering the working class woman’s experiences and demanding attention for those wilfully forgotten.
Opal Fruits is a messily personal ode to the women living on the council estate that performer/writer Holly Beasley-Garrigan grew up on. Comparing them to the sweets now called Starbursts, each one has a distinctive personality, a sense of their place in the world and the desire to make an impact. They range in age – from 4 to 65 – and in concerns – their hair, and whether or not they’re contributing to gentrification by purchasing their flat through right-to-buy.
It takes time for the throughline to emerge and there are several metatheatrical diversions that aren’t needed, but by the end of the show the audience has rallied to Beasley-Garrigan’s side when she again asks if we’re tired of white people writing self-indulgent, semi-autobiographical solo shows. Any dramaturgical sloppiness is forgiven after a poignant reveal and a convincing emotional landscape, though there is scope to tighten this brand new piece.
Dangerous Lenses is a more polished work, with no line out of place in Brooke Robinson’s conventionally-structured script. Grace Chilton plays a lonely, curtain twitcher who I suspect is elderly, or at least well into her middle years. She works part time on a chocolate factory’s inspection line, but otherwise spends her time scrutinising her neighbours. As a degenerative eye condition increasingly clouds her sight, her mental health is impacted and results in a nightmarish climax and deliciously ambiguous ending.
Though this unnamed character displays plenty of disturbing characteristics, these are a direct result of her disregard by the rest of society, including those immediate around her. She doesn’t even know the names of her co-workers, as they are all reduced to uniformed automatons without the time to chat.
Both shows, directly and not, demand attention and recognition for the ignored and stigmatised women that do their best to hold their families together, or just get on with their lives, in the face of a malicious, misogynist society that has no interest in helping them. Though not a double-bill, watching them as a pair is a doubly powerful reminder to look for the shadows in windows or on council estates of those longing to make their mark.
Dangerous Lenses and Opal Fruits run through 27 January.
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