‘Imagine a woman up to her neck’
Samuel Beckett’s Happy Days did just that. But where would this woman go if she could move? What would this woman do if she was able to escape? Who is this woman if she is not Winnie?
Two Boroughs at the Young Vic stages two community shows a year. Working with a full, professional creative and production team we put the show on in one of our theatre spaces with a cast made up of local individual and community groups. Each piece is inspired by something we have running concurrently in the Main House, so that our shows in Taking Part are integral to the programming of the building.
Happy Days, on at the start of this year, felt to us like one woman’s story – so we wanted to use it as a starting point to tell more stories, of more women. Of women who, like Winnie, find themselves defined by something outside of their control. Women who chose to care for others when that meant their world shrank around them. The rubble piled higher. Up to the neck.
We engaged two groups of unpaid, female carers, one from each of our two boroughs of Lambeth and Southwark. With them we created movement and text which enabled us to imagine freedom and escape, and to describe the daily realities of life for these extraordinary, ordinary women. All of the movement was improvised by the cast which also included twelve local women who auditioned to be part of a core movement group, in sessions led by Coral Messam, whilst the text was generated by exercises led by performance poet Francesca Beard. The show was brought together into a joyous whole by director Laura Keefe.
For the carers, coming to rehearsals every week and juggling their responsibilities with our sessions has been an ongoing negotiation. We have been meeting the two carers groups for four months, getting to know these amazing women with an often forgotten role in our society. They save the UK government approximately £119 billion a year – that’s almost as much as the entire NHS budget. Their carer’s allowance is £61.35 per week. On the eve of this uncertain general election we wanted to say something about the lives of these women who are affected, daily, by those in power but who are invisible except to those relying on them every hour of every day. No one knows them when they walk past on the street.
We felt that the sessions themselves needed to be joyful – to be a respite – and we hope we translated that to the stage. If it is theatre’s job to tell the stories of a society, to tell us our stories of ourselves, then we wanted to tell those stories that we do not hear, do not know exist. We have not given anyone a voice, we have simply allowed those voices to be heard.
Some women had circumstances too complicated to allow them to perform, some developed health complications of their own, but we are grateful for their words. It has been a joy and a privilege creating this piece with these women. Every story told on stage was true. Every woman stood with many more behind her. This show was for all those women, keeping the world turning, one day at a time.
Lily Einhorn (Two Boroughs Projects Manager)
For more information about Taking Part, go to www.youngvic.org/taking-part.