The mime 'everyman' was ready to be refreshed - with a female viewpoint.
We were doing mime, but a lot of it was clown.
Brabarella was not a take on the Jane Fonda film Barbarella but the story of Cinderella told in lingerie. If you step away from their purpose-built function, bras are fascinating objects. A front-opening maternity bra with a strange panel shape was 'Cindy's' 'apron, and another light-support bra her cleaning rag. (As a base costume, we all wore the then de-rigeur black unitards - at the time only available from the Gandolfi Dance Shop on Marylebone Road).
As fairy godmother I wore - ok google is not helping me with nomenclature - it was a thing women wore ('all-in-one'? step-ins'?) that was a bra that carried on down to tighten the tummy and ended in suspender clips for stockings - Tessa's mother-in-law somehow had a copious quantity of them that she donated to us. I had a peach-coloured diaphanous front-closing bra attached to the back of that which I made to flap like wings (the fairy costume I never had as a child!). Tessa as 'Cindy' brought on more 'rags' which, with a strike of my wand (was the wand a rolled-up Time Out magazine?) turned into a gown made of cascading tiers of B cups. A mouse (strapless bra upside down on her head like mouse ears) transformed into a blinkered horse (adjustment of headpiece bra - snorting and pawing the ground). Other lightweight bras were slung around the 'horse' and Cindy galloped merrily off whipping the reins. Claudia made a gloriously dashing prince all in black. Upside-down step-ins whose cups suggested 'puffing pants' and a piece of corsetry on each arm as regal sleeves.
Housewives' Circus. We also did a circus performed by 'Housewives' - yes this was the 1980's when that was still a word. Entrance of the Gladiators played and a roving spotlight set the scene for a parade of three women in aprons and respectively headscarf, hairnet and mobcap. There was stilt walking (two large brooms), a bearded-lady (dustpan brush), weightlifting (wooden pastry roller). A high-wire unicycle act (rotary eggbeater), a daredevil motorcyclist (tea-strainer goggles, round jaffle iron as handlebars. An elephant (using an old fashioned hair-bonnet with attached air-tube as a mask). Saucepan lids were cymbals for a hoover-hose snake charmer.
There was a magic act where a toy panda was trapped beneath a colander and skewers put through then a disappearing act - using the classic clown trope of clown appearing disguised as a member of the audience Claudia would come forward with her handbag and her 'husband'. One night at BAC, Claudia brought on pop musician Joe Jackson. Tessa (magician) and I ('lovely assistant') would hold a sheet, held in place by a peg: it was triple- not double-folded, so the 'couple' were disappeared, but of course, after the sheet is flourished away, they were revealed crouching at the back.
Man, there is a hilarious amount of vintage references in this post!
Businessmen began with a dance. To a jaunty/plodding music track, three (almost) faceless figures walked in rhythmic patterns backwards and forwards, flat-on like playing cards. Charity-shop jackets were pulled onto heads and the ties were tied on our foreheads and hung between our eyes in front of our noses. Tiny garden stools were carried in like briefcases, then snapped out in dynamic ways (think a fringe-theatre low-tech pre-envisioning of the business cards in America Psycho), then assembled for an inevitable status game with the seating. After a while a blow-up sex doll was brought on. She was naked but for a spiral bound secretary’s notebook covering her, erm, lap (remember short-hand, remember stenography?). There is nothing achieved and no real meeting, but the men use the secretary's listening** for a long winded word salad riff ‘My wife doesn’t understand me. Stand doesn’t wife under my me? Under-wife my stand. Stand me under my wife!’. Phones start to ring. From pockets come phone receivers with curly cords (1980, remember?!). The ‘men’ are in a cat's cradle, choking as a cacophony of ringing grows.
Three Women performed in Art Centres up and down the UK, toured to Holland, performed in festivals in Denmark and Spain and on British Council tours to Germany. We won an Edinburgh Festival Fringe First for 'High Heels', performed in the London International Mime Festival. Other shows were 'Follies Berserk' (a satire on women in popular performance) and 'Clotted Cream' which featured the ground-breaking piece 'Wounds' directed by the remarkable Hilary Westlake.
* Sadly Tessa's bold and creative life was cut short. I owe her so much. I wish I could find more of her paintings online. You can see a couple of her canvases here below behind me in the piece Businessmen.
** I recently re-watched My Fair Lady - Professor Higgins asks his housekeeper Mrs Pearce 'Why can't a woman be more like a man?' (zero cut-away shot for Mrs Pearce's eye-roll - I joke - there would have been no eye-roll, not even the faintest glimmer of an eyebrow lift. Mrs Pearce could not risk anything other than obedient indulgence - her livelihood depends on humouring as well as serving).
#clown #feministclown #womenintheatre #mime #DesmondJones