By Darby Turnbull
Sadie Hasler’s Pramkicker presented by Dirty Pennies Theatre Project is an unexpectedly delightful Christmas show, despite not taking place on Christmas or even mentioned. Single people; mostly cisgender women, without children are already looked on with passive aggressive disdain no matter the time of year, but this time of year is overwhelming in its emphasis on ‘the family’, especially children. Those of us without them do find ourselves having to defend the validity of our lifestyles with greater fervour whilst navigating spaces that are overwhelmed by prams, shopping bags, bikes, scooters and little people who are developing motor skills and space awareness chaperoned by exhausted and defensive caregivers.
As someone who regularly bores and/or amuses my friends with long winded rants about feeling sidelined within the community I am particularly inclined to side with Jude (Anna Burgess) who has found herself in court mandated anger management after a fraught encounter with a smug mother in a café resulted in her kicking an (empty) pram into the street and putting said mother in a headlock. Naturally she was provoked after being condescendingly told, not for the first time, that her life must be meaningless when all she’s trying to do is get a un child impeded coffee.
Along for the ride is Jude’s much younger sister, Susie, who’s at a crossroads in her life and bunking with Jude in their family home as her loyal drinking buddy and buffer. Hasler’s script is a hilariously scathing social commentary on ciswomen’s procreative choices; at times heroic in its defence of their right to be absolutely furious at consistent commentary on their bodies, lifestyles and fertility and moving in its acknowledgment of the sadness and pain that comes no matter what road one chooses to take. Ultimately she’s created a beautiful portrait of the unique bond between two sisters with a complex shared history, inside humour, frustration and often euphoric joy in each other’s company. It’s worth mentioning that the lenses through which Hasler is writing is affluent, white and (I’m assuming) straight, there is often a sense in the script that there’s a universality to the experience that she’s depicting. The pressure to have children is often the opposite for women of lower socio economic situations in which their choices are seen as ‘irresponsible’ and can get labelled as ‘welfare queens’. Also the history of sterilisation and medical mistreatment of pregnant women of colour in the UK, US, Canada and Australia is well documented. I’m not sure how much due Hasler’s script could give these experiences given the demographic she’s representing but it’s a nuance that sometimes feels glaring and unchallenged.
Poppy Rowley’s production is emotionally finessed and brilliantly paced she’s created a space that is rich with playful and cathartic discourse. With just two chairs and the occasional prop she brings Hasler’s acerbic wit to life like the conductor of a particularly layered duet between to different instruments. Anna Burgess’ Jude is the epitome of cool, she displays a razor sharp sense of timing throwing off acidic bon mots from her plummy east London accent like candy at a panto. She’s a fabulous stage presence using her angular frame to great effect prowling the space with restless energy, tossing her long hair, glowering, scoffing, arching her back before slowly allowing us to see the vulnerable woman beneath, a little bit tired, a little bit sad, quite a lot disillusioned; all unescapable aspects that come with living a few decades.
Amy May Nunn is no less virtuoso as not only Susy but an ensemble of minor characters that allow her to show off a great repertoire of accents and dialect rhythms. It’s to her credit that she never ‘shows off’ her range but keeps her shifts in characterisation subtle and organic imbuing each cameo, even if it’s only a few seconds, with a full inner life. Her Susy goes on unexpectedly deep emotional arc from endearing dork with some unabashedly weird tendencies, quite comfortable in her sister’s shadow to emotionally mature self-realisation which Nunn fills with sensitivity and pathos.
Giving away key plot points would be a disservice to the text but both characters explore and reflect on some very raw individual experiences that the cast and creative team evoke poignantly. Emma Lockhart-Wilson’s lighting is integral to navigating time, place and emotional shifts given the sparseness of the stage. She achieves some lovely tableaus within the expansive, black Theatreworks space. Kevan Atkins’ sound and composition is likewise brilliant; several needle drops of popular tunes clearly drew dopamine rushes from most of the audience combined with some seamless emotive soundbites integrated with the performances.
Sadie Hasler is an erudite and forceful voice in modern drama, like Phoebe Waller-Bridge she uses wry observational humour combined devastating personal trials to explore the ways individuals navigate their own sense of self with a cultural landscape that, depending on your social standing, offers a myriad of choices but also people’s intrusive opinions about them. Pramkicker from Dirty Pennies theatre project is wonderful opportunity to experience some release, validation and maybe an important lesson in just giving some people some breathing space to figure out just what they want.
Pram Kicker runs at theatre works until December 18th.