Last night I visited the first purpose build repertory theatre in the UK; The Old Rep in Birmingham for a triple bill of fantastic and funny theatre by women. This is one of a number or arts and cultural events up and down the country leading up to International Women’s Day 2016.
Denise Pitter began with her heart-warming performance The Funeral Singer written by Paven Virk, reminiscing the life and wisdom of he late aunt from Jamaica. She switched cleverly between characters starting off the performance cooking jerk chicken in the kitchen with the help of a Jamie Oliver cook book to our amusement, sharing with us her fantasies of romance and passion with The Naked Chef. I can’t help but chuckle when she shares stories of her youth when she would spend hours reading Mills and Boons books, sometimes finishing them in the bathroom to get away from her mum. I”m not the only one smiling as Pitter does well to connect with her audience whilst we reminisce adolescence. She sings with a deep and soulful voice the songs her aunt would sing that were promised to strength the spirit whilst bringing joy to the world. She certainly brought joy to the theatre this evening as she ended the piece on a poignant note giving us a warm glow on a cold and wet English night.
Next up was notnow collective, two energetic zany Croatian mum’s now living in Birmingham performing Wonder Woman: The Naked Truth. This was a fun and clever take on the perceptions of motherhood and the challenging clash of balancing being a mum with having a career in theatre. They explore the issue using physical theatre and storytelling and what strikes me straight away is Tina Hofman‘s bright red shoes that are complimented by Kristina Gavran‘s red shirt, that scream out from a black stage and their otherwise rather grey and dull attire. They break up the performance with music and songs, to my delight a number from the Rocky soundtrack, and at another change of scene there is a technical hitch so they request the audience sings ‘Wheels on the Bus’, which gets the crowd going like a bunch of school kids singing and giggling away. I love that these two mum’s are using their first hand experiences of juggling different hats that will be of huge interest to so many female artists. It certainly hits home with me as many of my creative friends have recently become mothers and struggle with their changing identity and the world’s judgement of their place in society.
Finally Dirty Pakistani Lingerie leaves us in stitches and makes the evening totally worth skipping dinner, rushing to get to the theatre straight from work whilst munching on some sushi I grabbed on the way trying to dodge the rain. This award winning play is set in post 9/11 America interweaving the stories of six Pakistani-American women, written by Aizzah Fatima. I can’t help but laugh out loud numerous times as Pakistani language and culture is so close to my Punjabi roots and heritage that I can relate to so many of the jokes and experiences had by the characters. There are many of the usual accents, examples and stereotypes we often see in British Asian comedy that I have had a rather large dose off since my early 20s as an avid theatre go-er, so I am more impressed by the clever switches between characters than the content of the piece that is not so new to me. There is the mother trying to arrange a marriage for her daughter, and a young feminist recently engaged worried if she will be able to continue her law degree post-marriage.
However I note that there has to be a place for this work that as a teenager would have knocked my socks off. This is why I don’t aways pay too close attention to theatre critics and reviews. Whilst we may see the same themes coming up time and time again, what is important to remember is that these are still issues in society and challenges faced by young women today; their rights, fears, challenges, injustices and dreams are real. As long as the struggle continues, inequalities remain and the need to express our stories become increasingly important for better understanding of our neighbours and communities, we need this kind of theatre and to keep on encouraging new writers and actors to fill our stages with real life.