Bechdel Theatre presents the second chapter of Bechdel Testing Life consisting of four new short plays. Isley Lynn, Rabiah Hussain, Guleraana Mir and Lizzie Milton premier their original pieces inspired by real life conversations recorded by the public. In Lynn’s Alginate, Hussain’s Binnacle, Mir’s Friends, Football Friends, and Milton’s Slow Ripening Fruit (directed respectively by Lotte Ruth Johnson, Nastazja Somers, Madelaine Moore, and Hannah Hauer-King) women are put centre-stage and given full attention.

The project is refreshing and the material invigoratingly real: what the company shine a light on are everyday stories with no frills and a straightforward vibe. Two sisters coping very differently with the loss of their mother gives way to three women whose friendship has withered with time but meet up for one of their birthdays. This then leaves the stage with a reflection on falseness, to then culminate with an insight on dealing with breast cancer.

An all-female production all around, Bechdel Theatre manages to showcase the power and determination of a strong group of women on-and-back-stage. Needless to say that it is very easy to spot how sexist and unrepresentative mainstream theatre is when you are placed in front of a production fully curated by women. It becomes obvious that it is not a matter of lacking relevant people.

A simple but direct set devised by Hilary Baxter is quickly modified in between pieces and accompanies strong lighting work, especially in Slow Ripening Fruit, which develops by jumping in time. The overall effect helps the audience to immediately understand the context, leaving no doubts about the scene. The evocative essence of the surroundings is crucial to the fast-paced and ever-changing quality of the show.

Equally confident writing throughout the four plays is matched by distinctive approaches to directing. While Johnson, Moore, and Hauer-King choose a more natural vibe, Somers’ directorial choices challenge the spectator. All three characters face the audience and not each other emphasise  their distance and disconnection, especially when compared to their interactions during the flashbacks.

A bold and promising project that needs time to grow and develop, Bechdel Testing Life points the spotlight on women’s relationships with each other and presents fully-developed characters in snapshots of real life. The individuals don’t rely on looks but on sheer content, which can be perceived as a healthy choice or as poor visuals. Either way, it is worthwhile considering that the production was born without an actual budget – hearty circumstances bring everything together.

This project is a great opportunity to start a conversation on representations; it is also a platform for writers to bring feminist work into the world without the need to tone it down for the general public. In an industry where women’s stories written by women are uncommon and unusual, Bechdel Testing Life comes alive with hearty and sincere intentions.

 

★★★☆☆

Bechdel Testing Life played at The Bunker. For more information on the project, click here.

Follow the link to an interview with theatremaker Beth Watson.