July 23, 2024

Phenomenal Females, Waterside, Manchester,

Don’t you just love confusing names? Let’s unravel this one: Celebration Hope is the name of the company, from Sarah Hope, the organiser. You’ve probably seen her, since she’s been on Corry, Doctors and is currently boncing around on Razzledazzle for CBeebies. Phenomenal Females is the name of the show and one that rang warning bells in my head. It was a benefit for mental health charity MIND and I had a sinking feeling it was going to be heartwarming, worthy and horribly right-on…..

I was wrong.

What, me, wrong?

It happens…

Phenomenal Females turned out to be a speedy hour of everyday tales of stress, madness and day to day survival. Winding together initially disparate threads till common strands emerged into a rope pulling the piece along. Short sketches inked in the tales of a set of women all affected in some way by mental ill-health, their own or that of others. It pulled up some issues worth remembering about how many people live with hidden distress. It angered me to reflect again on how much of the burden Thatcher’s “Care In The Community” fell onto women and how I’d expected Blair’s administration to bring about the health services we’d want for ourselves and our relatives.

All the cast were experienced in the theatre (there’s a relief at an event like this!) and it showed in the physical presence and emotional contact of the actors. It turns out that they’d all had TV experience too (Emmerdale, Merseybeat, Buried, etc) so this wasn’t a crew that hide themselves under a stone… A video loop of Sarah Hope in the lobby, jumping about on Razzledazzle, plaits flying all over, contrasted sharply with the stage persona of a woman struggling to care for her mother. As Sarah said about the show: “”Reality shows like Big Brother have us caught up in other peoples lives. In this show you also start to see your own life and experiences in a new way.”

This was a solidly professional piece of theatre – funny, depressing, thought-provoking – using ensemble techniques to present numerous characters and stories that allow us to create our own meanings. The absence of hectoring was a relief and a strong point when a topic like this can bring out the activist with a megaphone in us all. I gather that this production is likely to be touring soon and I’d recommend it.


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