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

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…

A Man of Good Hope: review

“The ability to have someone tell your story is so important. It says you know I was here.” Maya Angelou It’s a piece of musical theatre about having hope. It’s an urgent work which speaks of age old global phenomenons such as migration and life as a persecuted refugee. The term refugee has been part of the western world’s history since the persecution of protestants in France in 1540, the term migrant is biblical. The book upon which the show is based, an account of the life of Somali Asad Abdullahi who witnessed the murder of his mother when he was eight years old in Mogadishu during the civil war and who then fled across Africa as a boy and young man as a consequence, is in some ways so traumatic a read that the stage work has to offer more positivity than the title infers. 
In the Isango Ensemble and director Mark Dornford-May, with a little help from Stephen Daldry, the book, by Jonny Steinberg, has found the perfect stage partners. One feels that no other company could do this wor…

Safe House- art meets theatre at the Young Vic with Jeremy Herbert and Gabriella Sonabend

It starts with a journey down a narrow corridor, fist clenching wooden key.
‘Follow the yellow line’ the polite Usher says and I do, around the corner and into a foyer area, where I am met with a gust of wind from a machine that Jeremy Herbert, the designer, has created himself. As my hair blows and my cheeks and eyes are battered as if I am standing on top of a mountain, I am tempted to remain here, to continue to feel the gusts in my face and listen to the sound the wind makes. I don’t want anything else and I can’t hear anything else, only aware of a need to immerse myself in it, to let myself go in the rapid flashing lights that emanate from its surface. I’m one who craves aloneness and enjoys it all too well, but I am afraid that someone will come and disturb this brief relationship myself and the wind machine have struck up, or that my mind will interfere, the buzz of thoughts getting the better of me.. so I move on around the room, after all, there are four more ‘safes’, all a s…