Paperclip Theatre’s Voices From The Deep is a night of four short plays in Shakespearean verse, putting female-centric stories centre stage. With excellent intentions and solid performances, the plays give voice to unheard narratives but lack polish in areas that could have been mitigated.
Voices from the Deep exudes feminism from every pore; supporting female writers, actors and theatre-makers in championing female-centric narratives through a combination of comedy and heartfelt reflections. Made up of four short plays set in 1560s England and Scotland, 1870s Algeria and 1880 Raj India, Paperclip Theatre’s curated night is not short of a diverse array of voices. Confronting identity, power and conflict, the female experience is put centre stage – something frequently neglected on stage and screen.
Utilising Shakespearean verse to offer the stage to voices from the past, these historical women have plenty to say about the patriarchal oppression that dictated the course of their lives. All performers commit to their roles, embracing the Shakespearean verse and varied roles with vigour. The night starts with Liz & Mary: a short play about how Elizabeth 1st and Mary Queen of Scots’s kingdoms compared them, and how society set the two figures against one-another. The writing here is clear and compelling, with writer Verity Fine Hosken exhibiting a confident handle on the style. There’s fantastic performances from Buddleia Maslen and Kimberley Jarvis, cast to perfection and complementing each other well. The piece feels tonally distinct from the others in how it grapples with viewing history through modern perspectives and expectations, jovially highlighting the perils the queens faced that still resonate with women today.
Simple and succinct yet fantastically executed, the highlight of the night was the hilarious Dark Meat, in which a shamelessly perverted doctor takes delight in treating the ‘ailments’ of the wives of generals in the British Raj. Directed by Ariana Sandford and written by Rachel Archer, this piece plays for humour at every moment. The eccentricity of drag king Dr. Canker, played by Lucinda French, expertly pokes fun at the inextricable relationship between ego and male sexuality – and Mrs Fairweather (Kirsty Langley) does an excellent job of matching this outrageous performance, harnessing her own stereotype of a naive wife to outwit and humiliate the doctor. The actors clearly took delight in this performance and it shone through, inspiring easy laughter for the whole audience.
Suad explores her mixed racial identity against the backdrop of wartorn Algeria in Samia Djilli’s Middle Ground. Whilst this piece handles the most hard-hitting and compelling content, the impact is somewhat diluted by a weaker performance and a script that goes on a fraction too long. Actor Kheira Bay begins by delivering a powerful monologue, but falls quickly into a repetitive delivery style in which I lost some of the words. Although the fragility and anxiety in her portrayal of Suad is fitting with the context, somewhat clumsy miming made it feel a little amateur rather than authentic. Bay is certainly talented, but perhaps this performance needed to be further refined to exhibit this to the full potential. This story stands out as being the most poignant and thought-provoking, providing a stark contrast to the humour we’ve seen just before. It’s well written and, to the director’s credit, the space is utilised particularly well to engage all areas of the thrust seating plan.
Ardent is a piece about rebellion: defying expectations and the confines of your society, and the choice between love or independence. It feels the most evenly split for comedy and impact, and features queer lovers choosing to be together despite adversity. The second queer nod of the night, its representation and the connotations of the removal of the white dress are interesting. Replacing it with a plaid shirt leans into lesbian stereotypes in such a way that perhaps teeters on a cheapening gesture, however, as a queer woman, this may just be me being over-sensitive!
The evening is largely a success, however, preferential attention does appear to have been given to some sections over others. The humourous and more light-hearted moments do sometimes resonate more than the more sombre content, so although the company achieves its aim to highlight inequality through comedy for the most part, they should be cautious of the possibility of it overpowering.
In my opinion, the night’s curation also didn’t quite frame the pieces in the best possible way. Although the intention was clearly to intersperse the comedy with the hard hitting material, it left Middle Ground to handle the most intense subject in the unenviable third slot where the audience’s attention naturally wanes a little. As Liz & Mary works so well at the front, it would have been a shame to reverse the order but that would be the only way to maintain the tonal balance and prevent Liz & Mary and Ardent sitting quite so closely together. The night’s MC’s, Monique Odoom and Delila McFarlane were charming additions to the narrative, and despite being visibly nervous to begin with, grew into their stage in their second appearances.
Director Adriana Sandford is clearly alive with passion for diverse representation and supporting agency in female theatremakers, and this love shows in Voices From The Deep‘s pieces. Her piece has fantastic intentions and very strong aspects, but occasionally just falls short of polish that the piece deserves (something that could be fairly easily mitigated). As basic and arbitrary as it sounds, ensuring the stage manager wears black during set and props moves would just prevent the audience’s eye from being distracted from its intended place, for example.
I love what the company stand for and echo their viewpoint wholeheartedly, and despite the criticisms that I have previously outlined, thoroughly enjoyed the evening. What Voices from the Deep lacked in polish, it certainly makes up for in heart.