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Review of Virago Event. With thanks to Marj Morgan

Virago, by Make it Write Productions, was a night composed of a quartet of plays performed at Hope Street Theatre. The first play was Tomb, written by Ian Gray and directed by Leah Bush. As the lights rose, the audience was greeted by the sight of Francis, an isolated priest – played by Mike Sanders. Francis was solely focused on his task of writing and does not welcome interruptions of any kind. However, a determined woman soon breaks his self-imposed idyll when Abigail McKenzie as Caitlyn forces her way into his home and his memory.

These two strong characters gave intense emotional portrayals of a hermit and a pilgrim who have their own missions and hidden agendas. Caitlyn aptly describes their social collision when she says, “they lock us up in a prison of fear… I escaped.” The unsettling presence of a third character, Father Jerome, acted by Mark Holland, adds to the sense that the three people have something in common that only one of them wants to reveal – Caitlyn vibrantly upsets the façade of peace when she arrives determined to uncover the pain in their shared past.

Tomb is a play with a current of sadness threaded all the way through. The same can be said for the second play: Great Escape. Whilst the writer David Haworth decided to tackle the central theme of cancer and how it reaches into different lives, the performances by Charlotte Melville (Emily), Allan Nicol (Reg), and Hayley Thompson (Jen) were anything but morose. There were three people on stage but they inhabited a multitude of characters in locations from the moon to underground tunnels.

Directors Sam Buist and Paula Lee wisely chose to have the actors dressed in black attire that complimented their swift scene and character changes as they questioned, “What do you do when you have no options left?”. Each set of personalities that the actors represented was believable and relatable. This small cast used the stage and the props well to keep the audience engaged with the comedy and movement that shone through in the clever dialogue.

Isabel Williamson, a cellist, played a sound sandwich of beautiful music at the start and the end of the evening and in the interval – this audioscape enhanced the images of strong women being portrayed on the main stage.

The OCD acting mother, Jackie – performed by Caitlin Mary Carley Clough – was one of another trio of actors to take the stage in the third play of the evening: Killing Children by Patrick Maguire. Maguire’s script shone with strong dialogue about the disturbing subject of infanticide and the fraught relationships of the people involved. Oliver John Lawrensen as Ben, and Jessica Olwyn as Danny displayed how fraught events can become when fear and unanswered questions are the hub of personal connections.

John Maguire’s Kitty: Queen of the Washhouse closed the evening performances. Directed by Margaret Connell – with innovative use of a light box and soundscape interjections – Samantha Walton was exceptional as Liverpool’s beloved heroine Kitty Wilkinson.

The strength of her monologue performance was apt for the character she was portraying. Walton had the presence and surety to command full attention to her every word and movement from the moment she was revealed on her plinth at the back of the stage. Kitty Wilkinson’s presence was palpable as Walton sashayed with both humour and appropriate gravity through the life story of the eponymous heroine of the final play. The audience was emotionally carried across the Mersey and through the streets of Liverpool alongside Kitty Wilkinson as she navigated fear, loneliness, happiness and joy whilst being pulled from pillar to post by life’s experiences.

The standing ovation at the end of the final performance on the final night of the Make it Write Virago production was well deserved.

Make it Write itself is the product of a strong woman’s imagination – Sharon Colpman. As executive producer Colpman collaborated with fellow producer James Gaskin and other members of the team to bring these four different plays – with the central theme of strong women – to the Liverpool Fringe. In the year of the woman these plays were wise production choices.

The four plays were all well-written and justly performed by a versatile cast. There were memorable lines and characterisations from the start of the evening until the lights dimmed when Kitty Wilkinson completed her journey into the imaginations of the assembled audience; it was the perfect way to close the performances of strong women on the newly opened Hope Street Theatre stage.

The arts collaboration from all involved was outstanding. Next year at the Liverpool Fringe Festival promises to be exciting after this year’s introduction of new production companies, writers and theatres.

Photograph of Marj Morgan
Marjorie Morgan

Marjorie is a freelance writer who has had articles published in the Guardian, redpepper and gal-dem. She blogs and tweets regularly about social and cultural events that cross her radar. She is also a playwright who has been short-listed for the Kenneth Branagh Drama Writing Awards 2018.