By Amy Price
Dealing with gender stereotypes, Sophie Mcquillan and Ellie Gauge’s Congestion managed to be simultaneously hilarious yet affecting. Whilst not ground-breaking in its assertions, there was real food for thought in the questions asked – ‘why do we call them midwives?’ – and it was good to see the male perspective on this issue raised, in a social climate where women-orientated feminism is so prevalent.
In terms of direction, the decision to cross-gender the roles was intelligent and set the benchmark of the sharp creative vision that pervaded the piece. The ‘girls’ (Claire Forster, Eleanor George & Clementine Medforth) were completely convincing as they brought male voices to life, and similarly the ‘boys’ (Rory Bowe, Luke McCormack, George Rexstrew) were subtle in their performances as women. No one bowed to stereotypical ‘over-acting’: no fluttering of eye-lashes and no exaggerated crotch-grabs; the cast gave sensitive and well-time speeches, carefully balancing the comedy with the sad truths of what was sometimes being said.
All six performers were exceptionally brave as they literally and metaphorically exposed themselves for the audience, and I really appreciated the emotional realism they invested in their performances. Equally appreciated was the simple set and costumes, which furthered the realism without distracting from the action.
Kudos must also go to the singing from the cast. Whilst acapella scene changes are nothing new, the musical choices (‘If I Were a Boy’, ‘Blurred Lines’ and ‘It’s a Man’s World’) were relevant, and truly added to the overall atmosphere. It was interesting how the piece drew attention to the part played by modern culture in sustaining certain stereotypes, using the music and the motif of mobile phones to show how even the cast members did not always devote sufficient attention to each other.
Perhaps the best thing about this show was that it didn’t feel like a lecture of any kind; it is an exploration of ideas, as opposed to a morality play prodding the audience to think and feel specific things. The issues addressed hit surprisingly close to home, ending on a comment about the title ‘Senior Man’, yet this lingering note allowed the audience to reach their own conclusions.
Therefore, for me, Congestion was pretty much faultless. No doubt there will be those who disagree, but that is only appropriate given the contentious nature of this verbatim piece of theatre.
Image: Ellie Gauge.