Somewhere in between ‘missing’ and ‘presumed drowned’ is – what? The limbo of the ladies’ loos, that’s what. So here we are, six of us (ladies and gents, the gents looking somewhere in-between embarrassed and intrigued), and as always there’s a queue, with two of three cubicles occupied – one by Virginia Woolf, and one by Ophelia. Well, of course.
ShadyJane plug every single water analogy they can get away with in this clever little show that is, for once, completely appropriately sited outside a theatre space. It’s set in a toilet and that’s where it needs to be! So the core story is that here, lurking out of sight most of the time, live our two victims of watery death, the intellectual Virginia and the emotional Ophelia, kind of washed up through the sewer system from the rivers in which they perished to this new home, the ladies loo, which they haunt in a Harry Potter Moaning Myrtle sort of way (there’s even a book that disappears into the bog!).
And the ladies’ loo is the place that women come to think, and to sob, and to share secrets, and to wash away the tears – so they are there to comment, and sometimes to confront, those who share their space – and occasionally, someone comes by who can benefit from their cathartic presence. The ‘someone’ who happens by whilst we are there is a young woman called Romola who is burdened with a submerged (oops) story of a suicidal mother drowned at sea, the drowning witnessed from the end of the pier by Romola as a young child.
All this we learn in a fragmented narrative that emerges through a series of living pictures created in the cubicles, mirrors or sinks – a hanging raincoat, a handful of floating rose petals, an abandoned red glove, a cascade of water, a suicide note written in lipstick – and through films and projections (of rippling water; of the well-dressed mother fiddling with her red gloves; of the view from the end of the pier, in gorgeous Kodachrome colour) that are played onto walls and ceilings.
Once Romola’s story is resolved (a little clunkily with a block of spoken text that summarises everything we’ve learnt through other means in a rather unnecessary way, as in: ‘my mother committed suicide when I was...’ etc, etc), she scrubs up, fixes the smudged mascara, and departs – and our two ghostly presences revert to form, with Ophelia’s cubicle transformed into a bower of roses; and Virginia settled down on her loo with a good book.
It’s an ambitious show, but ShadyJane, for all their youth, live up to the challenges they’ve set themselves. The dramaturgy is, for the most part, sound; the multimedia aspects are well integrated; the design a united aesthetic that shows an awareness of the power of scenography to drive a piece; the use of object animation well-integrated, with a lovely ‘puppetesque’ quality to the whole work; and there are strong performances from the three-woman team.
All-in-all, a very commendable show, a worthy winner of the Total Theatre Award for an Emerging Company.