Ovalhouse (This performance has now closed)
Entering the intimate studio at Ovalhouse we are met by beautiful fairy-lit columns and actors frozen on the stage, poised and ready, the story soon to rush in to the theatre. There’s a simplicity to the set, that allows the intricate language of the script to permeate the space, with little to detract from it. Leigh Douglas’ writing is distinctive, she’s created her own style of old English merged with fairytale speak. It works, and the narrative guides us gently in to the action. The tale is told by the four-strong company, all versatile actors, some taking on several roles. Colette Eaton shines out at first as the narrator, then The Girl, she’s both an engaging performer and skilled storyteller. Gabrielle Sheppard has got the Disney Princess trope down to a tee, as has James Wordsworth for The Prince. Francesca Anderson is well cast as the mother, and is a captivating performer as she plays both the venomous anger and the softer side of her character.
I feel there are two key routes that queer theatre (or theatre with an LGBT narrative) tends to take – either demonstrating the positives of equality or highlighting the problems and discrimination the LGBT community face. Waking Beauty pursues the latter: the lesbian princesses subject to a barrage of abuse from the Maiden’s mother, their homosexuality labelled as a sickness and a curse. Of course it’s important to reflect that this is still an unbearable truth in many places around the world, though I found, as a gay woman, sitting through this somewhat disheartening, it is difficult to spend an hour hearing your sexuality criticised, ridiculed, labelled as a sickness – something that can be remedied. Which isn’t meant as a criticism of the work, but an observation that queer theatre frequently acts as a mere echo of the ongoing and exhausting fight for LGBT equality – and that is a challenging reminder of the reality many LGBT+ people still face today in many parts of the world.
I was a little disappointed that the town remained homophobic, never seeing the error of their ways, but this was counterbalanced by the fact that it was alluded to that the princesses found their happy ever after and also the fact that they made the choice, despite it being a difficult one, to pursue their happiness.
Waking Beauty successfully challenges the heteronormativity of traditional fairytales, and shifts them on to a queer landscape, shining a light on the joy that can be found when we retell our oldest stories for a modern day (and LGBT) audience. As part of the generation that grew up with strictly heterosexual fairytales, it’s thrilling to see that theatres are finally scheduling the stories that would have been so beneficial to us when we were younger. The Minerva Collective are developing a unique performance style, I’m excited to see what their next move will be and am hopeful that as a company they’ll continue to build on their work with queer, female narratives – there’s such a need for them on the UK’s stages. For now, they have made a valiant start at rewriting the princess, something that also desperately needs addressing.
©Amie Taylor 2016