Terminology around the LGBT+ community can seem like a bit of a nightmare. People get so worried about saying the right thing and using the right words that they forget everyone they are talking about or to is a person, an individual in their own right. Bringing the whole thing back to people is Jan Silverman whose play Collective Rage: A Play in Five Betties is getting its UK premiere at the Southwark Playhouse.
Told both as monologues to the audience and interactions between the characters, and using a play within a play device, Collective Rage: A Play in Five Betties is exactly that. Five, and I apologise for the terminology, ladies, named Betty, are brought together in this one act story of rage, desire, lust and love set in New York. Betty 1 (Sara Stewart) is a socialite, married to a rich husband that cheats on her. She spends a lot of time watching depressing TV news specials about how the world is going to hell in a handcart, and reminding the world how powerful and rich she is. Betty 2 (Lucy McCormick) is in a similar mould to Betty 1, but is younger and far less sure of herself. Betty 3 (Beatriz Romilly) is a plain speaking, forthright woman, probably from the Bronx – or a similar district – whose life is changed following a trip to the theatre. Betty 4 (Johnnie Fiori) can best be described as someone who likes to watch life go by. She doesn’t like change in an form but she does love her truck and is best friends with both Betty 3 and Betty 5 (Genesis Lynea). Betty 5 is a young person, making good after a spell in jail. Like her friend Betty 4, she has a truck that she dotes on, but also has a gym where she teaches, boxing, Krav Maga and other such fighting arts. Somehow, the lives of these five Betties become inextricably linked and none of them are ever the same again.
Jan Silverman is an amazing writer. All five of her Bettys are wonderful people and unusually for me, I actually liked every character on the stage. Without diving into the realm of spoilers, I found myself rooting for each relationship as the play progressed. Even the ending, which I had decided on quite early in the play, took me by surprise but made so much sense the more I thought about it. The spoken words do not make easy listening, and there was one word in particular which appeared more than I have ever heard it before in my life. There is a lot of comedy in the writing but there are also some amazingly lyrical moments that are almost shakespearean in their flow. For example, Betty 5 makes a speech as a wall that actually brought a lump to my throat with both its simplicity and deep emotion. There were a lot of jokes about the theatre, the people that patronise it and the cost of tickets and the development of the play within a play probably brings back many a bad memory to any writer, producer or director that sees it.
All five of the actors worked really hard to deliver a first rate show and, on the whole really pulled it off. If I had a favourite it Lucy McCormick as Betty 2. It would be easy to overplay the character – especially with the puppet scene – but Lucy keeps the portrayal nicely reigned in so that Betty 2 always stays on the right side of believable. Having said that, all of the performances were really good and there is a nice chemistry in the majority of the interactions between the five characters.
Director Charlie Parham uses the two storey thrust stage well and the minimal set by Anna Reid, means the actors have plenty of room to move around. Although one or two of the scene changes didn’t feel as smooth as they could have done, the overall production did flow well and I never found my attention wandering. It was interesting how, at times, laughter came at a certain line from one part of the audience, then later, another line caused a reaction in another part. The real issue for me was that occasionally, the accents of a couple of the characters were so strong, I had trouble understanding all the words. I know New Yorker’s can talk fast, but allowance should be made for those that don’t spend that long in the Big Apple.
Overall then, I was surprised how much I enjoyed Collective Rage: A Play in Five Betties. Whilst its definitely not one for an aged relative subject to an attack if the vapours, it’s a great story about human beings being themselves.
Revew by Terry Eastham
Betty is rich; Betty is lonely; Betty’s busy working on her truck; Betty wants to talk about love, but Betty needs to hit something. Meanwhile, Betty decides to stage a production of that play-within-a-play from…what’s it called again? Summer’s Midnight Dream? In Collective Rage, the lives of five very different New York women named Betty collide at the intersection of anger, sex and “theat-ah.” As they meet, fall in love, rehearse, revel and rage, they realise that they’ve been stuck reading the same scripts for far too long.
Hitting the ring with an electrifying soundtrack, looks to kill and spectacular routines, this outrageous comedy packs the punch to shatter lacquered femininity into a thousand glittering pieces. Strongly influenced by cabaret and female drag, this exquisite rejection of shame and stereotype will punch you in the gut, break your heart and then take you dancing.
Cast: Sara Stewart (Betty 1), Lucy McCormick (Betty 2), Beatriz Romilly (Betty 3), Johnnie Fiori (Betty 4) and Genesis Lynea (Betty 5)
Director – Charlie Parham
Producers – Emma Hall and Nik Holttum
Casting – Claudia Blunt
Antic Face and Nik Holttum Productions presents
The UK première of
A PLAY IN FIVE BETTIES
By Jen Silverman
24 JAN – 17 FEB 2018