Inspirational teamwork and divisive differences explored
Ding-Dong (A Bit of a Farce)
JJJ Oran Mor, Glasgow
Anita and Me
JJJJ King’s Theatre, Edinburgh
Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh
Trump or Clinton? Leave or remain? Independence or union? Whichever camp you fall into, society is more polarised than ever. That can make the very act of theatregoing feel radical. Where else to acknowledge another’s viewpoint? Where else, in the case of Hilary Lyon’s slight but good-natured lunchtime play Ding-Dong (A Bit of a Farce), to see the collision between opposing neighbours: one, a left-leaning teacher with a well-spring of empathy; the other, an easily riled conservative with too much to complain about?
Is Gail Watson’s Jennifer a self-serving social climber? Or is she all front, keeping it together no better than Lyon’s harassed Susie? And could it be that Susie is equally self-serving in her displays of virtuousness?
No clear answers, of course, except the observation that things are rarely as a black-and-white as they seem.
A co-production between Glasgow’s A Play, a Pie and a Pint and Edinburgh’s Traverse (where it plays next week), Lyon’s debut play has a sense of fun to compensate for its tonal inconsistencies. Morag Fullerton tries a little too hard to jolly things up with her directorial interventions but draws out entertaining performances from a zesty cast.
Neighbourhood tensions continue at the Edinburgh King’s in Anita and Me, the set-text favourite by Meera Syal. This humane coming-of-age tale is about Meena Kumar, eldest daughter of a Punjabi couple, and Anita Rutter, the white child of a broken home.
Played by Aasiya Shah, Meena skips and twists with a rag-doll floppiness, while Laura Aramayo’s Anita shows the hard-as-nails exterior of a street child and the vulnerable interior of the little girl she still is. Both are excellent, their relationship growing from sisters in crime to supportive companions, before deteriorating into a split fuelled by poverty, racism and crushed ambition.
If that makes the show sound like hard work, Roxana Silbert’s Birmingham Rep production has a joyful sense of community life. Her 14-strong cast are supplemented by half-a-dozen extras, all prone to bursting into song.
Playwright Tanika Gupta captures the forgiving quality of Syal’s 1996 novel, with its wry understanding that the low-level racism of 1970s Britain was more a product of ignorance than hate. Only later does the story hit a darker note as disenfranchised skinheads begin taking out their grievances on the only group who are more powerless than themselves.
More historical perspective – and another female friendship – in Offside, a tremendous three-hander from the London-based Futures Theatre by the poet-playwrights Sabrina Mahfouz and Hollie McNish. It’s about two young athletes squaring up for a place in the England women’s football squad while drawing psychological support from the example of pioneering sportswomen.
Playing Mickey, the more forthright of the pair, Tanya-Loretta Dee takes inspiration from Carrie Boustead, Britain’s first black female footballer. As her teammate Keeley, Jessica Butcher looks back to Lily Parr who played to crowds in excess of 53,000 in wartime Lancashire. Along with Daphne Kouma as the coach, Dee and Butcher give high-scoring performances, tough, taut and precise.
Mahfouz and McNish frame the climactic Test match not only in terms of the young women’s personal ambitions, but also in the context of generations of female struggle. If one of them manages to score, it will be a goal for the suffragettes, homosexual rights, mental-health awareness and any number of causes the script works in. Stories of teamwork overcoming the odds are often moving; by adding a feminist spin, this one is also inspirational.
Thanks to its language-loving writers, it is gorgeous to listen to, stumbling only when the poetry gives way to soap-opera dialogue, but more typically propelling us forward with its rhythmic chants and repetitions. And thanks to the physical subject matter, Caroline Bryant’s production is as theatrical as it is defiant.
l Ding-Dong (A Bit of a Farce) is at Oran Mor, Glasgow, today, then the Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh, 4-8 April. Anita and Me and Offside, final performances today