May Queen, Paines Plough Roundabout

MAY QUEEN - Paines Plough

by Laura Kressly

Leigh’s doing her GCSEs but all she and the girls at school can talk about is the upcoming May Day event, where Leigh’s playing the May queen. She can’t wait to wear the dress she was allowed to choose herself, and wave from the float whilst the entire city of Coventry comes out to watch. What she doesn’t realise is that at 16 years old, Leigh’s had enough of boys and men consuming her body.

On the surface this solo show is about normal teenage life in Britain and the sorts of things young people get up to. School is peripheral to time with mates, drinking cider, getting high, having sex and playing video games. There are many tiny dramas in Leigh’s life that draw nostalgic smiles from the adults in the audience, though how they reflect women’s memories of growing up is far less positive. Perpetually underscoring of all these activities are the way men and boys treat her as an object that exists to serve them. There are catcalls here and too-long glances there, but Leigh also experiences much, much worse. Performed by Yasmin Dawes, she portrays Leigh with an innocent charm and youthful vigour that consistently holds the audience’s attention in this intimate venue.

Frankie Meredith’s sophisticated script strikes a fine balance between youthful frivolity and serious feminist commentary, the latter of which is used for the former. Its implicit message that misogyny defines not just women and girls’ interactions with men, but how women and girls treat themselves and each other, is subtle earlier on but becomes more prominent as the story unfolds. It also increases in urgency to the point of eruption, though there is no catharsis in the patriarchy. Meredith also shows how this is embedded this in the fibre of our beings, and much of the time it goes repressed and unrealised. At Leigh’s age, it’s not something she is conscious of yet, but this is pointedly and painfully recognisable to women in the audience who have endured similar, and may long to release the anger that Leigh carries. Whilst this may go unnoticed by cis white men who do not experience discrimination and violence on a daily basis, it provides women with a reassurance that they are not alone.

May Queen tours England through 17 October.

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