The Plays The Thing, The success of “Taking the Stage”
By Rosemary Hill
“Taking The Stage - Women in the Performing Arts” at MK Gallery was our biggest project to date.
It was a symposium and a festival combining new plays, discussions, talks, comedy sketches, a newly devised youth piece, a keynote, panels and workshops. It was certainly ambitious and at times did seem overwhelming. There were so many strands with so many things and people to think about and we only had a small team.
I would like to pay tribute to them all for working so hard on this project. They all believed whole heartedly in this initiative, which was so wonderful for me as the curator to see. It is quite amazing what can be achieved with dedication. We must though be careful not to burn ourselves out. Work like this is important, but it most certainly needs proper funding.
We are most grateful to The Arts Council and Milton Keynes Community Foundation for supporting and believing in it. We take away many lessons from this project which we know will have a legacy. One lesson is that we most certainly need a bigger team next time.
People are already asking when we will be doing the next one! We are pleased that people see this as something valuable that could grow. We may well consider doing something like this every other year. So next year we shall be looking at how we can take some of the “scratch” pieces forward. Then perhaps the year after that another “Taking The Stage” festival. It’s all to be decided.
One thing to think about though is that we hope we won’t need such an event in years to come, because women artists will be performed as much as men and there will be gender parity representation and pay.
Here are some of the wonderful comments, reviews and articles we received following the event.
“I just wanted to write and thank you so much for enabling me to be involved with your wonderful project on Saturday. I really do believe inspirational events, such as this, are vital to enable us to continue to push boundaries for women in the arts and to inspire the next generation of women that enter these industries and I really want to thank you for the inspiration you provide by creating events such as this. Thanks again and good luck for the future.” Jo McLllwaine, Sound engineer/ Theatre Technician who joined the event panel ‘Women and Technology’
“You should be proud of yourself. Without you all this wonderful work would never have happened. Making something great from nothing is not to be sneezed at!” Julia Pascal, playwright of ‘Three Sisters’ premiered at the event
“Today was mad and exciting and “Dirty Laundry” was received so well! Thank you, Rosemary Hill, and The Play’s The Thing Theatre Company for giving us the opportunity to share our work and for providing such a wonderful platform for women in the arts.” Wallis Hamilton Felton, actor and playwright of ‘Dirty Laundry’ performed at the event
“I just wanted to congratulate you on pulling off a very impressive feat. Indeed, I woke up this morning feeling slightly disappointed that I hadn't been able to take advantage of more of the events, and that there wasn't still more on offer today! I imagine your own feeling was more one of relief that it had come to such a satisfying conclusion?
“I was always aware that you had undertaken a very ambitious project, but it was only when I was engaging with it that I realised to what extent it combined a professional conference with a festival of new production, each of which could probably have sustained the two-day programme. I have to say that the elements I was able to attend (more of a 'convenience sample' than a principled selection due to personal constraints & limitations) were all excellent. I particularly enjoyed the discussions, all of which led to interesting informal conversations following the formal part of the event.” Barbara Mayor
“I’ve really relished today spent at the “Taking The Stage” symposium - interesting and insightful panel talks and fantastic performances of plays written and performed by some very talented actresses. Yesterday’s world premiere of Julia Pascal’s “Three Sisters” was also excellent - well done to all involved. One more day of the symposium tomorrow, with three more panel talks, four more plays, some comedy and a final chance to see “Three Sisters”. Get along to MK Gallery if you have a chance!!” Beverley Webster
Three Sisters by Julia Pascal
Overview by Carly Halse
“Three Sisters” is a new play by acclaimed writer and director Julia Pascal, and was recently the opening production at the inspirational Taking The Stage festival at MK Gallery, produced by Rosemary Hill and The Play’s The Thing. Based on the real life events of Pascal’s own family history, this ensemble piece has moments of beauty, humour and trauma. The three sisters of the title are
Edith, Isabel and Pearl, each growing up in “dreary” Manchester after their parents flee rising antisemitism in Romania in 1908. Their headstrong mother Esther fights for her daughters to have everything she did not, including a fulfilling and diverse education, much to their fathers chagrin.
As the piece unfolds we watch these intelligent, engaging young women navigate their lives. Edith becomes the Army’s first munitions officer during World War Two. Pearl marries a G.I and moves to America – the land of opportunity. Isabel wants to marry, and eventually becomes a doctor’s wife.
Each woman recounts pertinent and important moments from their past, as they reflect on their lives, from childhood to death. Stylistically, the piece moves erratically through time allowing the sisters stories to intertwine at times, and become the focus at others. There is a sense of surrealism throughout which allows for some humorous and neatly layered moments of theatricality.
There is some truly beautiful text here and Pascal’s writing style is engaging and unexpected. Isabel’s monologue about a romantic meeting with a man abroad is dreamlike and fascinating. Each characters personalities are intricately realised, and the disjointed structure of the piece makes for a pacy and intriguing performance. Pascal has a wonderful ability to transport you fully into a moment of time, even briefly.
In such an ensemble heavy piece, it’s important the cast gel together and it’s clear this is the case on the whole. Each performer brings something to the group. The whole ensemble works incredibly hard but I must mention In particular Fiz Marcus, who is incredibly engaging on stage as the strong-minded Edith and gives a secure and grounded performance. Likewise, Saria Steel has a wonderful fiery and charming presence as Esther. Tiran Aakel plays several male characters and each with distinct characterisation – his transformation from strict Jewish father to weedy soldier Cecil is particularly amusing and well done.
There’s also some lovely puppetry work with a doll repeated throughout, and some simple but effective vocal work to complement scenes. Additionally there is another beautiful set from Kevin Jenkins here (as always!) with clothing and cloth almost overwhelming the characters as they root through dresses and wedding veils. This is complemented beautifully by several suitcases, shadowing the immigrant experience.
There’s lots to love here and you can’t help but develop real affection towards these characters, as if they are somewhat irksome, but ultimately real members of your own family. It was an excellent choice for the opening of an inspirational festival celebrating women and I’m sure it has an exciting future ahead of it.
Links to articles by reporter Giverny Masso from The Stage who attended the event:
Director Julia Pascal – Withdraw funding from organisations that do not commit to gender parity
Graeae’s Jenny Sealey – Bring back subsidy for theatre in education