“James, can you show us how you stand when you pee?”
For most rehearsals the room is all female, it’s suggested that this allows the piece to comment more openly on the sexism in the action and it definitely changes the dynamic of our discussions. The few times we do have a guy in with us we often need them to explain certain aspects of intrinsic manliness we just don’t get – like urinating with a penis. Today James Fortune, Musical Director, is our honorary male.
He’s also teaching the songs (by soulful artists like Nina Simone, Peggy Lee and Etta James, to name a few); each one takes us deeper into Astrid’s (Kirsty Bushell) character. These are supported vocally, instrumentally and with movement by Emily Barber, Chipo Chung. Ellora Torchia and Helen Schlesinger. It’s no easy job, combining jazzy dance moves with acapella artistry, but James and Sarah Dowling (Movement Director) skilfully craft a moving musical tapestry. The cabaret style makes it intrinsically live, playful and dependent on each new audience – allowing nay, demanding interaction and complete removal of the fourth wall.
It is this cabaret world that cradles the financial world we’re presenting and is our entry into Astrid’s psyche. Astrid is a workaholic and these exchanges with the audience are akin to Astrid taking part in group therapy. (People Places and Things, Headlong’s award winning show, comes into conversation.) She is a hard, hard woman who has spent her life not letting people in, not being vulnerable. Being this open is the bravest she’s ever been. What’s particularly interesting is how Astrid is a victim but arguably the only person to blame is herself, she’s the perpetrator. She’s trying to make it in a “man’s world” and to do that she’s internalised the misogyny she encounters. If she fails, if someone pities her, it’s because she’s a woman. You hate her for her decisions and her mind-set whilst simultaneously empathising with her choices.
The first scene and the last scene are temporally adjacent in the world of the play, with the intervening action bringing the audience up to date on how Astird got to this moment. We’re left with open-ended questions that Amy Hodge (director) and Kirsty want to keep open – how did Astrid get to this moment? Why is she feeling like this? Could she have played it better? This is not a ‘neat’ ending; as Kirsty says, “you’re either in the game, or you’re out of the game”, and Astrid can’t stand losing.