Rosemary Branch Theatre, London, 8th and 9th August
(This production has now closed)
The complexity of relationships between women is something we rarely see on stage. Even few of those productions that thankfully pass the “Bechdel Test” explore the intricate nature of female friendship and desire. Flugelman Productions is seeking to change that with Graceful, a play by Hayley Ricketson.
The show focuses on 17-year-old Grace (Chloe Jane Astleford), who is packed off to live with an older cousin she barely knows after her single father is admitted to rehab for alcoholism. Rhonda (Eleanor Dillon-Reams), who is 38 and struggling with conflicted feelings around motherhood ten years on from an abortion, welcomes Chloe into her home with compassionate caution. As the motherless Grace and the daughterless Rhonda grow closer, their relationship begins to fill needs in both women in unexpected ways—familial, platonic and romantic.
The play takes the form of almost continuous dialogue between the two women, while Grace and Rhonda’s inner selves, played by Catherine Brown and Asha Reid, portray the characters’ internalised thoughts and feelings.
The “inners” are a good idea, and there are times when it works very well. Sometimes, though, it feels a little obvious—the subtext has been brought off the page and dropped with a bang in front of our eyes. Often, we just don’t need it. Despite the undoubtable strength of Brown and Reid’s performances, there were times when I would have loved to have seen Astleford and Dillon-Reams alone on stage, the tension unbroken by the frustrated angst of the inners.
This show could have been many things that it is not. It could have been a coming-out story about a troubled young gay woman with a crush on her older cousin. It could have been an exploration of power dynamics in an inappropriate relationship between a grown woman and a teenager. It could have been a pure romance about lesbian love. Instead, Graceful is much more interesting.
This is a show about longing and the satisfaction of needs. About the fight between heart and mind. It’s even about what it means to be a woman. How can we know what satisfies us in a world that tells us how we should feel and what we should want?
The play has great potential, and I hope that Frugelman Productions will continue to develop it in the future. Ricketson has written two unique and complex characters with voices that are important to hear in a world that often reduces female desire to a one-dimensional sexuality. Graceful deserves to be heard.