Jane Fae recommends this “rarest of rarities”, a queer female love story
BY JANE FAE
How We Begin has finished. Too soon! Too soon. For this two-hander of a play is that rarest of rarities: a queer female love story getting an outing to a London audience.
At the King’s Head Theatre in Islington, since you asked, which is a worthy project in its own right. The most ethically and socially responsible fringe theatre in the UK (according to them) and with a reputation for challenging work and support of young artists.
Still. Where did we begin? Ah yes, we began with Helen (Talia Pick) and Diana (Emma Lucia) discovering rather late in the day that their feelings for one another go a bit beyond BFF-ship. Are rather more than platonic. But there are problems. Issues, according to the contemporary vernacular. Like, neither is out to friends or family. And then there is the small matter of Diana living with her boyfriend of four years.
There are a lot of questions raised by this play. Like, c’mon, Diana: Helen totally rocks your world. So just dump the guy and get on with it. But nothing is simple, not least the fact that boyfriend is a million miles from the stereotypical sexist pig that would make such dumping easy: worse still, he is even nice to Helen. Or as she puts it: “if your boyfriend was a dick this would be much easier”.
And beneath the comedy, a growing wistful note as the love-struck pair explore lesbian and queer truths. Like: how does a queer woman ever get to realise her own identity, when there are so few role models out there for them? And, funny not funny: how could no-one notice that they are madly in love? Simple: because unless they are provocatively, egregiously out, the standard assumption will be that two women getting on well can only be straight and best friends; definitely NOT having an affair.
So we have a love triangle, albeit played as a two-hander. We only ever see Diana and Helen on stage: only hear their voices as they slowly draw the audience into their tangled world of lust and infidelity. Although – a neat device this – the words of other characters, from random grandparents to best friends are there, as presented by the two young women. Funny words as Helen’s mum comes to term with her daughter’s sexuality: uplifting ones, as her grandfather affirms it.
This is well written, witty. Deftly comic with the ear of a stand-up. A first and obvious thought, is that this, with its distinctive rhythm, was written by – or for – a female comic. Or female comedy duo. Both have some sparkling lines, although as Helen, increasingly consumed by insecurity, turns serious, a dynamic emerges in which she plays straight (?) woman to the always more effervescent Diana. Both excel, in timing, in delivery and ultimately in just engaging the audience.
In fact, this is playwriting debut from writer Elizabeth Lewerenz, who was selected earlier this year as one of just six participants in the Vault Festival New Writers Festival.
And honourable mention, too, to director and producer Elizabeth Benbow. A woman on a mission to produce work that focuses on female led stories, above all new writing that explores themes and ideas deemed “taboo” and “unladylike”.
I greatly enjoyed this work. So, too, it seemed, did the rest of the audience, mostly young women who, one suspected, were not just being entertained, but also reflecting on how the issues in How We Begin played out in their own lives.
If I have a criticism, it is its length. The run was altogether too short. And the play itself, at just over the hour is equally short. It deserves writing up at far greater length, bringing some of the characters only talked about onto the stage.
It also felt totally ripe for a televisual outing. In tone and content, it reminded me of nothing less than Butterflies, Carla Lane’s funny, bittersweet paean to a woman on the edge of adultery.
For now, How We Begin is at an end. But there are plans to bring it back to the Vault Festival, to Edinburgh next year and to the regions. If it turns up in your neighbourhood, do catch it. Follow @how_begin for updates.
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