Review by Greta Doell
Having previously seen several innovative works at the Meat Market Stables, I’m not surprised by the immediate immersion into what feels like a 70s disco club when I first arrive to see And She Would Stand Like This.
Two worlds blend seamlessly into each other in this production: the world of fierce drag queens and queer performers, and the pillaged palaces of Troy from Euripides’ The Trojan Women – both are equally fraught with danger.
A fellow patron exclaims, “This is extraordinary. How am I supposed to choose where to sit?” when walking through the black curtain and into the theatre, where a pointed catwalk stage awaits. Thankfully, there are plenty of places to sit. Rather, she is referring to Karine Larché’s scenic design, which is immediately clear and purposeful: rows of seats line both sides of the catwalk stage as if we are at a Paris Fashion Week show, waiting for the runway to be filled with stars.
We aren’t disappointed. We are thrown right into glamour from the opening moments of the show, with a fabulous Greek chorus sashaying through the doors and strutting down the catwalk in perfect unison. The chorus performers, Mikki Daely, Guillaume Gentil and Peter Wood, both in this opening and throughout the show, execute enviable choreography by Jonathan Homsey and Kiki Devine.
Hecuba, played by Kikki Temple, the fabulous Queen Bee and mother of this chorus, and many other children, takes her place on stage. She awaits the news of her family’s fate in a hospital, as an unnamed illness infects several of her children. The play follows reflections of trauma that bind Hecuba’s family unit together, and their grief, as this lethal epidemic rips through them.
As any Greek tragedy fans can surmise, the names and loose storylines of the characters are reimagined from The Trojan Women with new, exciting meaning in the recontextualized world And She Would Stand Like This creates. The grief of the trojan women before they are enslaved to the Greeks is replaced by a grief that is reflective of the AIDS/HIV epidemic, but the same time-old abuse remains.
The chorus works as the bridge between Euripides’ play and the abuse of queer bodies of colour, inspired by the 1990 documentary Paris is Burning, in which the stories of socially shunned drag queens in the 1980s is explored.
Margot Tanjutco’s direction has orchestrated a perfect balance between the chorus and other cast members. Daely, Gentil and Wood do not to totally steal the show, but are the traditional Greek chorus whilst adding the unique comedy and fabulousness that could only come from a group of queer performers. But the rest of the cast is equally as good.
Kiki Temple’s portrayal of Hecuba as a strong, yet vulnerable matriarch is captivating. Michelle Perera is another powerful presence in the role of Elena, who embodies the overt alienation and discrimination the queer characters of colour are forced to endure. Elena’s girlboss, dead-naming, feminist-when-it-suits-me behaviour is infuriating and brilliant on the part of the playwright, Harrison David Rivers.
Whilst it is a talented cast that is well directed, the design especially shines.
The smaller details of the production don’t go unnoticed. The catwalk stage looks like it is made of marble, reminiscent of the palaces of Troy. But better yet, the catwalk stage points into a sharp triangle and is mirrored by a matching triangle of LED lights that hang above.
I loved this inclusion from lighting designer Ikshvak Sobti. He appears to work with Larché to showcase sharpness, the jagged danger that always looms in these combined worlds. These lights in some moments resemble the LED dancefloor squares seen in clubs, and in others are simply the cold, artificial glow of the hospital lights that threaten to fizz out at any moment.
Notably, Olivia McKenna’s sound design also reflects the duality in the play’s dramaturgy. It punctuates moments of trauma and grief with menacing soundscapes in some moments, then adds irresistibly fun dance music in others, to compliment the sass and agency of the characters.
In short, it would be a shame to miss And She Would Stand Like This before it closes on the 12th of February.
This daring exploration of the abuse of queer bodies of colour and the bonds of chosen family is a fierce ‘screw you’ to those that hope to monopolize definitions of family, motherhood and womanhood.