Skip to main content

merry christmas, Ms Meadows, review Belarus Free Theatre, Edinburgh Fringe

Some of the criticism levelled at Belarus Free Theatre’s latest show merry christmas, Ms Meadows, is that the play seems confused in its message over its two chief thematic concerns- gender identity and sexual orientation. But for me their ‘associative thinking’ style approach, rejecting the traditional norms of a linear narrative with an absolute message, is a freeing experience and part of what draws me to their work- one senses that the company is continually trying to look for meaningful relationships of grouped phenomena between acts and events [and inviting the audience to do so too]- hence their particular brand of documentary didactic theatre combining an unusual amount of research, verbatim theatre, news/ interviews & theorists [here it is Michel Foucault and The History of Sexuality] in typical conflict and contrast with the warmth, passion and ardency of their physical theatre which often includes live music and visual potency.
© Nicolai Khalezin
In fact, in this case, the poetical almost binary opposites stylistic approach which has so discomforted some critics, is surely [one way of looking at it] a metaphor in itself- the uncomfortable extremes of thought and feeling produced in us by the constant interrupting by newspaper reports and scholarly intellectualisms is a discomfort some have expressed they would rather not enjoy, preferring instead to stay with the humanness of the characters the actors so magically bring to life. Thus the gulf between media reports, their claim to being able to have a moral ethical stand point which speaks for everyone and to drive in us some emotional charge and judgment, particularly in the case of Ms Meadows, is cleverly exposed for what it is in this piece- inhuman, unconscionable, uncomfortable but insatiable.

The play begins with the suicide of teacher Lucy Meadows who was outed and horrifically attacked by the press for her gender reassignment and intertwines her story with global transphobia narratives, stories from countries where the third sex is accepted and at least acknowledged [the hijra community] and Albania’s Last Sworn Virgins- women, who in order to escape arranged marriages and lives of domestic servitude, elect to become men [forgoing sex as a condition] and for whom behaving like men, though not necessarily feeling like them [or a man], is a political and social act. BFT documents several examples to show us women who still prefer to think of themselves as such and others who have, without gender reassignment, become and feel like men.

The message though, ultimately, is that ‘we don’t need bodies [or a body] to love’ we don’t need to have sexual identity, that the purest of love might just be platonic. It might be so a simple message that it seems odd that it has to be stated. But it is one that does not seem to permeate even those cultures that consider themselves democratic and sophisticated. And we are forced to question why it is that now, more than ever, society insists on tying people to their sexual orientation or gender assignment and expectations and that the deviation from those considered ‘norms’ is not acceptable? What does it say about us? What is it we fear? Do we fear having to relate to someone as being and a being, rather than someone we can experience as an exterior form only and whom we can all place, identify with and understand- or not, as the case may be?

merry christmas, Ms Meadows is an important discourse on how our sexual orientation and gender assignment dictates society’s treatment of us- depending on where that society is and the religions and politics that shape and inform it. And it does important work to raise awareness about these issues- work that Lucy Meadows wanted to dedicate herself to but who never got the chance to ‘educate the people around me and the children at school’ as she had wished.

merry christmas, Ms Meadows runs until Aug 25th at the Pleasance Dome, Edinburgh 

more info

performed by Belarus Free Theatre company


Popular posts from this blog

Collabo- Hip hop with a difference

There’s a buzz in the air at Stratford Circus Arts Centre. No wonder, this is the 10th anniversary of Collabo, Tony Adigun’s annual dance celebration founded in 2006 to promote new collaborations and hip-hop hybrids from dance groups. Friday’s program of short portfolios opens with 10 (UnTitled Dance Company) choreographed by Lukas McFarlane lasting fifteen minutes (no mean feat in the hip-hop world) and featuring 10 tracks and illustrating some super synchronised steps and gyros executed with military precision. The occasional, surprising rigidness of the choreography is broken by experimentation with spoken word. Liberation (What Is Written Dance Company) has the same exactness, but their more simple choreography is easier on the eye after the mass sprawl of 10. Kweku Aacht and Guest Dancers produce an interpretation of a track performed live onstage- the sometimes rowdy crowd shouting out and encouraging the performers on hold their breath as the troupe fluctuate between free style a…

Once in a Lifetime- theatre review: slightly revised to reflect the ambiguous ending

Once in a Lifetime is a show about the tenuous and complicated relationship between creativity and destruction. Re-adapted here by Chris Hart, son of one half of the original writing duo Moss Hart and George S Kaufman, the show may well be set in 1930s Hollywood just as the talkies are about to change cinema forever, but it might also be poking fun at an art form that is a little closer to home. Director Richard Jones always takes risks with little produced, marginalised or very well known works in a bid to uncover something new that might be a comment on our own times. Here, a story about hapless Vaudeville trio act George (John Marquez), Jerry (Kevin Bishop) and May (Claudie Blakley), who set out to conquer Hollywood with their mythic elocution school, is the perfect fit for the director to explore themes that seem to obsess him: national myth, parody, the tyranny of power, willed self-destruction, bureaucracy, global fantasy, etc. So far, the show has not gone down so well with the c…

Walking the Tightrope- Theatre Delicatessen

Site-specific set? Perhaps. In the old Guardian offices in Farringdon, Offstage Theatre and Theatre Uncut curate a cycle of 12 short plays exploring the tension[s] between art and politics, reactions to the budget cuts to the arts in the UK and debate freedom of expression controversies. Corruption, class divides, perception, blood money, gesture politics and culpability, it’s all there and recent topical events are given stage time, from The Tricycle’s controversial decision to withdraw their support for the UK Jewish Film Festival to the Barbican’s cancelled Exhibit B. The plays are entertaining- Sun City by April De Angelis, Re: Exhibit by Gbolahan Obisesan, Old Newland by Julie Pascal, Tickets are on Sale Now by Caryl Churchill and Exhibit A, by Neil LaBute, all deserve special mention for looking beyond the parameters of funding and freedom of expression in the UK arts- by which of course, I mean a theatrical London still surfing the very last trickling waves of Colonialism and it…