Loosely based on Maxim Gorky’s Children of the Sun, Daughters of the Sun insists it puts female characters at the forefront, exploring themes of privilege and the function of art. Primarily unrehearsed Daughters of Sun is self-declared “low budget unfunded theatre”, and emphasises the rawness of its performance with unashamed humour. Actresses Becky (Rebecca Brewer) and Beth (Beth Higham-Edwards) arrange the stage, while the lights are up and the audience patiently wait for the play to begin, Becky reads at times from a script and from Kim Gordon’s Girl in Band (holding the book). This sense of dynamism and spontaneity is juxtaposed with the captions projected onto the back wall, which are a transcript of the play’s dialogue highlighting that every joke, every address of the audience is premeditated.
Daughters of the Sun is set at various points in the future within the confines of the Camden People’s Theatre, these shifts in time are powered by our imaginations and the prescriptive instructions of Becky. Disparate stories of a cover band preparing for its first big gig and an actress playing the not-so coveted role of “dead body four” in an amateur production of Gorky’s Children of the Sun, are interspersed with narration, projected news alerts, excerpts of Gordon’s book and audience instruction. Daughters of the Sun repeatedly makes the point that it is privileging the voices of women and bringing prominence to its female characters, but what it is they are trying to say is difficult to ascertain. The walls of the Camden People’s Theatre stage are adorned with the names of famous intellectuals, feminists filmmakers and sports icons, many of them women. But nothing is done with these names, the essence of the people they represent is not incorporated into the story, their lives’ work never mentioned, they sit staring at us right until the end when they are utilised as a rushed piece of audience participation. Their names are literally a prop, which contrasts the play’s theme of female empowerment.
Gorky’s original play highlights the apathy of the idealistic middle-class intelligentsia, who are unaware of what’s going on around them. Daughters of the Sun’s cover band storyline echoes this, as the lead singer ignores frequent news alerts about current crises occurring around the world (which is a tad confusing as this section is set in the future), instead monologuing about her insecurity about performing. The second story’s link to the overall theme of the play is less clear, save for the fact that it is about an amateur performance. Similarly, the audience participation, songs and autobiography extracts are interesting additions, but fail to frame the story. There is a crescendo of action in the middle of the play, where the story lines harmonise to paint a picture of insecurity and self-doubt as true in the past as it is in the future. Though brief and followed by swift divergence, it is by far the piece’s stand out moment.
Brewer effectively shepherds the audience across time, with good humour and firmness. Her deadpan impersonation of the cruel producer sings a testament to her range as a performer. However, the number of songs within the play feels gratuitous. Higham-Edwards is sympathetic as the silent but frustrated bandmate, performing the instrumentation of all the piece’s music. The lighting design is a particular stand out feature, recreating the melodrama of an amateur production, and aiding the audience shift between their imaginations and the action on stage.
Gorky’s essence runs through Daughters of the Sun, but it remains unclear whether the elusive message being delivered by this play is a casualty of its unpredictability or a beneficiary of its exploration of what it is to be an artist.
Daughters of the Sun is playing at the Camden People’s Theatre until 17 November. For more information click here.