Graceful is a powerful play about a complex relationship between two women who are 17 and 37. Not only is the script by Hayley Ricketson dynamic, it is expertly presented by a small but strong female cast.
Whilst the cast is undoubtedly great, it is the script that truly shines in this show. The presence of the Inner Characters, who tell the audience what is going through Grace and Rhonda’s minds, creates a wonderful tension, since the audience knows what the characters want to say but won’t. The lines of both the real characters and the Inners overlap, which gives the feeling of an anxious mind racing, trying to find the words. It seems the Inners represent things inside both of them that they have denied for a long time. The play closes with both Grace and Rhonda facing their respective Inner, with the words of their final lines alternating and intertwining. It is clear at that moment that the two women are facing themselves and finally have a sense of closure from the trauma in their lives. It really is a beautiful ending.
At first, I did not like the Inner characters, played by Catherine Brown and Asha Reid. I felt they were melodramatic and the monologues they delivered at the start of the play were all very drama A-Level. However, when placed alongside the expert naturalism and awkward tension of Grace and Rhonda, the dramatic nature of their lines and acting style became perfectly complimentary. As soon as the action got going I took my initial snap judgement back, and by the end of the play greatly admired the performances given by Brown and Reid.
The other half of the cast, Grace and Rhonda, played by Chloe Jane Astleford and Eleanor Dillon-Reams, also give stunning performances. The presence of the Inners means the two are able to be very subtle in their performances, in a way that could be seen as boring otherwise. The two perfectly capture an awkwardness and shyness of having so much to say but not quite being able to find the words, and have brilliant chemistry.
How the show dealt with one of its central themes, sex and sexuality, impressed me the most. Firstly, it portrays a young girl masturbating, but in a way that does not feel creepy. Instead, it felt, as a young woman, true to how a girl of that age might explore her sexuality. Secondly, Ricketson explores everything that sex means to women. The confusing emotions, the desire for intimacy, the connection with another person. In this play, sex is more than just passion, but something deeper and more frightening to confront. Finally, Ricketson expertly builds the sexual tension to the point where I was literally on the edge of my seat.
In a testament to the strength of the writing, the play does not feel like a bold feminist statement, yet is all about telling the stories of women. Written and performed by women and about women, Graceful is part of an emerging trend in new writing that draws on the strengthening feminism that seems to be emerging during a time of political turmoil. This kind of writing carves out a great play for women and tells the world that we have a voice which we intend to use, and I am 100% behind it.
Graceful played at the Rosemary Branch Theatre until 9 August. For more information, click here.