Guest reviewer Ethan Russon kicks up a storm with his in depth report of his experience at Joy Winkler’s brand new interactive and experimental theatre piece, Lightning Under Their Skirts, with award– winning director Kevin Dyer, which is currently on tour and which played Newcastle Under Lyme Library, in Staffordshire this week.
Let’s set the scene, we’re in a public library, there are 70 or so seats in a circle facing the “stage”. Then let’s add in a few sparse props and some basic scenery. And then let’s add to the mix three performers playing eight characters. In-The-Round, intimate and close to the audience, with no backstage area. This is now a very bold setup; And it begins….
And what what may appear at first to be a simple piece becomes something far more important, real and absorbing. The plays writer Joy Winkler who also performs, along with actors Josie Cerise and Harvey Robinson blurs the lines between poetry, interactive theatre and social commentary in Lightning Under Their Skirts, directed by Kevin Dyer
The piece, not dissimilar to other socially important texts such Road by Jim Cartwright, offers a platform for real voices. Joy Winkler, former Cheshire Poet Laureate and writer of the piece, captures the spirit of an entire cross section of society that we don’t see much of anymore and we should all thank her for the style, grace and love she pours into her work.
Joy Winkler’s tender respect shines through each line uttered on stage whether spoken by herself or her fellow performers.
Performing in a play (albeit her own) is a new experience for Winkler, and doing it ‘In-The-Round ‘ can be daunting to even the most experienced actors, especially in this intimate space. However the simple, warm and calm set design, combined with the natural grace that she exudes, expertly supported by Cerise and Robinson, quickly and completely flood the performance space with a life of times gone by.
Set firmly in the sixties, perhaps some of the very youngest audiences wouldn’t grasp all of the retro references. However audiences of all ages adored the performance I was at. I spared a few moments to watch reactions and ask people what they thought.
The audience were captivated.
I wasn’t surprised to see people utterly absorbed with it, and I was even less surprised when people told me that they loved every second “It’s feels just so familiar” one audience member told me.
Lightning Under Their Skirts feels familiar. It is real. It’s relatable, it’s close to home but most importantly it isn’t invasive.
Prodding into the past and reminding people of their own experiences is easy to get wrong. Here it’s done perfectly. If you watch the audience you can see the monologues and characters envelope them and take them somewhere personal and unique, this is surely the essence of theatre; the ability to transport an audience into a world of your making.
Poetry and music is blended seamlessly and gently with the narrative, without once breaking the flow.
In fact Winkler’s reciting of poetry does’t sound like poetry in the traditional sense at all. It sounded like the voices of millions of people speaking at once through her. If this had been done with any sense of arrogance or conceit it would have derailed the whole performance, but Winkler changes shape on stage and becomes your aunt, your mother, your grandmother and exudes the same homely love.
Sandy (Josie Cerise) is your sister, your best friend and the girl you never managed to keep. And let’s not forget Gary (Harvey Robinson.) His slick sliding encapsulates that young wild masculinity so confident, so brash but yet so utterly terrified of the world.
The depths of all of the characters is delivered brilliantly by a professional cast in control.
As well as being very funny, the piece doesn’t shy away from pain or raw emotion either. Sudden switches turning these already familiar personas into even more fully rounded and believable people, and again we see Winkler’s first-hand experience guiding (not showing) us through the pain and distress.
The show by Storm in The North productions, produced in association with the highly acclaimed Action Transport Theatre, and which is supported by Arts Council England, is very much an experimental piece.
After the first act, and main section concludes, the experience becomes much more interactive. I don’t wish to spoil the surprise, but this incredibly unconventional second part (second act) of the experience focuses on the theme of community.
In a very unique and interactive way, it cleverly provides a brief glimpse at a time when people spoke to each other. I personally felt a little uncomfortable with this because I’m so used to seeing a show in a traditional way, and not talking to anyone else in the audience, but now here I’m being encouraged to, and shown that I can; I’m unlearning programmed behaviour.
This may sound pessimistic but it certainly isn’t meant to, in fact the entire room was alive with energy.
This second section does focus on events and celebrities in the sixties, and lends to my earlier concern that younger audiences may feel a bit detached from the piece. But perhaps, in some way that’s the point, perhaps I’m reading into context that isn’t there but maybe this is social commentary at its rawest, we were a small society; a community.
And I must stress that the unconventional second section is incredibly accessible and you are encouraged to be part of it. And even though the end felt somewhat sudden it certainly didn’t detract from the experience.
Lightning Under Their Skirts is the mirror in which we see the past that surrounds us and walks with us. For an hour or two we’re guided through a few nights in three people lives, during which they tell many, many stories that resonate with us all – and that is the magic of theatre.
A simple reminder of community, love, life and the past is yours if you choose it and you should, you should support humble caring story tellers like Joy Winkler and her team.
I’d like to thank Terry Heath the Stock, Services and Activities Manager at Newcastle Library for the time he took to make me feel very welcome, and how he explained to me that this was the first time that the library had hosted a professional performance. Not that anyone would have known, and hopefully it will definitely not be the last.
Finally thank you to the cast, crew and all involved. We should all aim to be so professional, kind and courteous.
Support local theatre, support real stories and support the growing profession small companies that are rejuvenating the theatre scene with accessible shows in non-theatre spaces.
See Lightning Under Their Skirts by Storm in the North and Action Transport Theatre. They’ve earned an evening of your time.
FORTHCOMING TOUR DATES
Sorry, SOLD OUT! Thursday, May 18, 7.30pm, Macclesfield Library, Cheshire SK10 1EE. Tickets £10 adult; £8 concessions. Box Office 01625 374000 or online (Cheshire Rural Touring Arts)
Sorry, SOLD OUT! Friday, May 19, 7.30pm Holmes Chapel Library, Cheshire, CW4 7AB (Cheshire Rural Touring Arts) Tickets: £10. To book please contact: 01477 689550. The Library has plenty of free car parking right next to the building, which is wheelchair accessible and has an accessible toilet.
Thursday, May 25, 7.30pm The Civic, Barnsley, South Yorkshire, S70 2HZ. Tickets £12, £10 concession, £8 student. Box Office: 01226 327000 or online.
Friday, May 26, 7.30pm Tarvin Community Centre, Tarvin, nr Chester CH3 8LY, Tickets £10. To book please contact: 01829 741 962 or book online via Cheshire Rural Touring Arts. The Centre has off-street parking and disabled access. The licenced bar will be open on the night!
Sunday, May 28, 7.30pm, Northwich Memorial Court (Brio Leisure), Chesterway, CW9 5QJ, Tickets: £9.00 – £10.00* (*booking fee applies). Box Office: 01606 261100 or online. Northwich Memorial Court has free adjacent parking.
Josie Cerise, Harvey Robinson and Joy Winkler
Director, Kevin Dyer.
Writer, Joy Winkler
Producer, Laura Duncalf
Composer/Music Director, Harri Chambers
Stage Manager, Alice Longson
Costume, Pat Tripney and Jane O’Neill
PR & Marketing, Caroline Hawkridge, The Hawkridge Agency
Photography, David Knight, David Knight Portraits
Storm in the North in association with Action Transport Theatre presents ‘Lightning under their Skirts’, Joy Winkler’s new play with award-winning director Kevin Dyer.
Supported using public funding by the National Lottery through Arts Council England.