Sassy and full of fire, Claire Dowie’s Why is John Lennon Wearing a Skirt? delivers a much-deserved punch to society’s stomach. Chloe Richardson and Darcey Graham have taken the powerful play and created a comedic and intense showcase of the issues of gender expectations and their effect on a girl challenging typical feminine or masculine traits.
“Finding her own version of what it means to be female”
The monologue follows the life of a woman who, from the age of three, has experienced the suffocating impact of gender roles and social pressures and has constantly struggled with her inability to escape them. The nightmare that is adolescence serves only to further confuse her, by finding her own version of what it means to be female, in a place where being John Lennon is her only comfort and option.
Michaela Green, Rosie Hudson, Kate Maguire and Lillian Race tackle this complicated character together, with Graham and Richardson breaking apart the one-woman monologue and casting four women to play one. It works a treat.
“The dynamic of the four is impressive”
Green, Hudson, Maguire and Race seamlessly move in and out of the role of John, bringing an ever-fresh perspective with them, constantly moving, constantly shifting and constantly making me question my own identity. The dynamic of the four is impressive: they act as a single unit, strong and united in their portrayal of John’s character yet able to become John’s girl-friends, John’s boy-friends, the boss, the old women and the mother in an instant.
The flexibility of the four is remarkable and their comic timing impeccable, bringing out the extremely funny side to the serious topics through their apt characterisations and bold, lively dancing, both of which received hearty laughter from the audience.
Chloe Richardson excelled herself with the physical theatre throughout the play. The synchronisation of actions, the mechanical quality of the movements and the levels she creates through them adds an energy and pace to the drama which complements the more natural aspects of it.
“Maguire stood in the centre of the stage in a single spotlight”
Green, Hudson, Maguire and Race deliver this choreography with ease, and one particularly powerful scene was when Maguire stood in the centre of the stage in a single spotlight with the other three sitting on stools around her putting their hands over their mouths and opening their legs in unison as Maguire speaks on the treatment of women. This was uncomfortable to watch and emphasised just how disgusting the situations of women can be.
The space is used incredibly well with the formations, movements and emotions heightened by the clever use of spotlights, free-standing lights and dimming, which can be accredited to lighting designer James Fox. The lighting along with Georgie Paxton’s choice of music and sound effects creates a fierce and heart-wrenching atmosphere which kept the audience in complete silence following their laughter only moments before.
“The audience themselves are trapped in this inescapable world of expectations”
The set itself means that you can’t escape the overarching anger and power of the story as the backdrop is covered with magazine cut-outs of women scantily clad, pouting and covered in makeup with derogatory words spray-painted on top during every performance. You try to look away from that and you’re forced to stare at the words encompassing the idea of gender covering the floor, meaning the audience themselves are trapped in this inescapable world of expectations and judgement.
The cluttered dressing table in the corner of the stage makes up the rest of the set yet it is enough to symbolise the suffocating environment in which John, and we as people, are stuck.
This carefully constructed performance of Dowie’s Why is John Lennon Wearing a Skirt? is not only affecting in terms of its portrayal of gender identity issues but is impressive with its physical theatre, emotive acting and technical effects.
“Leaving you with the confidence to act and dress as you like”
It is uplifting despite its brutally honest nature in revealing the downfalls of society, leaving you with the confidence to act and dress as you like and making you want to go out and fight for all that John is worth.
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