If there’s one thing you should do this weekend, it’s go and see Alice Tyrrell’s masterpiece ‘The Ladies’, on at Pembroke New Cellars as part of the Pembroke Players’ Queer Season. Then you should pray that the play is put on again very, very soon, and that anyone who has ever gone through the painful process that is puberty should watch it: immediately.
As I sat in the crowded room, cut in half by a set that requires the audience to move positions halfway through – from the corridor outside the ladies’ toilet, to inside the ladies’ toilet in the second act – my heart pumped with adrenaline, pain and joy, as every single emotion I had ever felt in secondary school was acted out before me by a beautifully talented cast, working with a script that could easily rival any Hollywood coming of age movie. From new love and heartache, to complex bitchy ‘frenemy’-esque behaviour and sexuality crises, and the utter, utter dread of the return to the local for a subtle yet vicious game of one-upmanship with old school mates that plays out over a pint: the entire play took you on that hormone-driven rollercoaster that is adolescence in the space of under an hour, and therein lies my singular complaint regarding The Ladies: that it was too short, only approximately fifty minutes, but I just simply wanted it to go on forever.
Tyrrell’s writing and directing possessed such incredible range: she nailed teenage awkwardness, aced the complexities of (particularly young, female) relationships, mastered the dynamics between couples and crushes of all varieties (from new flings to long-term partnerships), and artfully conveyed an intense, breath-taking sexual chemistry between Ella and Freya, which was brilliantly portrayed by Hannah Lyall and Fran Davis.
Each actor in the cast held their own, but particular mention must go to the fantastic, cliquey airhead girls played by Vee Tames and Kay Benson – incessantly twirling hair, rolling eyes, and insisting on forgetting the torture they clearly put Ella through at school, gleefully glossing over the years of exclusion and bitching that must have occurred between them – and Charlie Saddington’s brilliantly funny wannabe lad, top shagger turned beaming boyfriend, that had the audience in bits.
The Ladies is one of the best pieces of theatre I have seen during my time here: it is funny and witty, it is utterly sensitive and articulate, and the sheer complexity and nuance of growing up that Tyrrell is able to so aptly cram in is staggering. I love, love, love it. My heart stopped in the final scene, and, in the words of Ella, I haven’t stopped thinking about it since.
Go, now, before it’s too late. And thank you Alice, for making me feel like everyone’s been there, and it’s all going to be okay.