‘All the world’s a stage and it’s a dead easy guess which sex has all the speaking parts.’
Last year Edward Hall (Artistic Director, Hampstead Theatre) was called out by multiple signatories questioning the lack of women in his summer season. For his defence, he suggested the gender imbalance was due to the shortage of good female writers and assumed that female driven narratives couldn’t make enough money at the box office. In an attempt to challenge this culture and in direct response to the under-representation of women on stage, The King’s Head Theatre has launched Who Runs The World? A festival of work by female playwrights, seeking to give female voices the spotlight they deserve. Baby Box is the third instalment of the season and follows sisters Jamie (played by author Laura McGrady) and Chloe (Sarah Cullum), through the rollercoaster that is womanhood.
Charting over a decade and covering the expected hallmarks of periods, boys, sexuality, debilitating pain, laughter, loss, excruciating screams, motherhood, sisterhood, pain induced blackouts, weddings……wait, what? Alongside the seemingly normal coming of age narrative, lurks something darker. Endometriosis affects 1 in 10 women and Sleepless Theatre Company takes on the challenge surrounding the taboo, hoping to spread awareness of the relatively unknown disease. Although this undertaking is important, the subject itself is almost secondary to the central relationship of the two sisters, whose love for each other remains constant throughout. A somewhat refreshing take on the usual competitive and judgemental elements of female friendships often portrayed in popular culture.
It’s hard to believe McGrady and Cullum are not related, their rapport akin to having known each other all their lives. Cullum is exceptional as younger sister Chloe and McGrady’s portrayal of Jamie’s everlasting love for her younger sibling is both heart-warming and heart-breaking all at once. Direction from King’s Head Junior Associate Helena Jackson is done with care and sensitivity, the focus always being on the close bond between sisters. This closeness is reflected in the dressing of each other in between the scene changes, showing the caring and protective nature of family, something any sibling can easily relate to.
Lighting is minimal and it feels as though designer Simisola Majekodunmi missed a trick in regards to the various ‘moods’ of the piece. Perhaps a red hue may be considered too obvious, however, it seems a shame that during Cullum’s monologue; her pain and suffering increasing on each breath, is not matched by a gradual change in lighting, the combination of which could have been extremely powerful. Similarly, the sound design could be used to greater effect, hinting more at where each year/decade the next scene is set.
Stigma around periods has consequences and the decision to leave a blood stained mattress unashamedly on stage, reminds the audience that menstruation should not be a cause of embarrassment. One particular scene that will garner support from women everywhere is when Chloe’s male teacher refuses to let her leave the classroom to go to the toilet, despite the sticky mass that has begun to seep through her underwear, causing her such anger and embarrassment she writes the words FUCK YOU around the school with various sanitary products.
Currently female writers only get 28% of stage time, which seems ridiculous considering the talent of McGrady and many other women. For anyone who wants to change such statistics, Baby Box will be performed until 6 May and Who Runs The World? continues through to 12th May.