Image by Imogen Lewis

Yesterday evening, tired from a long six-contact-hour day, I made my way to the Michael Pilch Studio to watch Green Sun Production’s second play: a double feature of Martin Crimp’s Play House (2012) and Definitely the Bahamas (1987). It is the solo directing debut of Tartuffe co-director Siân Lawrence.

As with Green Sun Production’s first play, I found myself marvelling at how naturally the feminist messages and some of the key contradictions and questions of what it means to be a woman were explored, effortlessly combining Crimp’s original playwriting with an image befitting the all-female company. As ever, the influence of literature remained present, with the seemingly careless placement of books that seemed to serve as intertextual references, such as Jean-Paul Sartre’s Nausea, Virginia Woolf’s Mrs Dalloway, Katherine Mansfield’s The Garden Party and Other Stories, and Dylan Thomas’s Under Milk Wood.

Crimp’s more recent work, Play House, follows a young couple who have just moved into their new house, Kristina and Simon. Lawrence’s adaptation has Kristina and Simona played by Susie Weidmann and Imogen Boxall respectively. Already this transposition from a heterosexual to a queer couple allows for greater exploration of some of the broader feminist conundrums; like when asking whether their hypothetical future daughter would be “force[d] to play house” for a husband, but also: “What if she’d like to play house?”

Boxhall and Weidmann on the floor.
Boxhall and Weidmann (left to right) as Simona and Kristina in Play House.
Image by Imogen Lewis

These adages challenge the overdone and simplistic interpretation of feminism where a so-called “good feminist” must reject all formerly traditional female roles within the home at the risk of being seen as a “bad feminist”. Within this prism of women’s rights, and with Sartre’s Nausea strewn on the floor, my paranoid literature nerd had me questioning whether Simona, as well as being the feminised version of Crimp’s original Simon, wasn’t an echo of the mother of feminism and Sartre’s collaborator, Simone de Beauvoir. Accordingly, was the neighbour Ian/Jan supposed to be Jean-Paul Sartre? I digress.

Nonetheless, some elements of existentialism were noticeable in Simona’s dread and familiar sense of helplessness. At one point, Simona suggests she feels like a cat has more dignity than her, and Kristina responds summarily rejecting the idea that we, as people, have no responsibility, and that rather we are running the whole show as masters of our fate. It certainly did hark back to Sartre’s existential angst.

Indeed, Nausea’s role seems augmented in Lawrence’s adaptation. The couple grow increasingly alienated from each other, as they realise that playing house is not quite like the sweet, romantic montage that is depicted at the beginning to the sound of Norah Jones’ Don’t Know Why, in a gradual degradation that mirrors Nausea’s Roquentin’s revulsion and defamiliarization with his own self.

Boxhall and Weidmann sitting on chairs.
Boxhall and Weidmann (left to right) as Milly and Frank in Definitely the Bahamas.
Image by Imogen Lewis

Boxhall and Weidmann the turned to portraying the Definitely the Bahamas’s roles of Milly and Frank, who almost break the fourth-wall by recounting to some invisible third-party listener the life of their son, Michael, his wife, Irene, and the teenage Dutch student, Marika, who lives with them. This time through an intergenerational lens, we are presented with more food for thought, as Milly delivers lines like this:

‘[Marika]’s a pretty girl, or she could be if she didn’t insist on wearing those skirts with the slit all the way up the leg’;

‘There’s nothing uglier to my mind than seeing all of a girl’s thigh’;

and ‘she’s very attractive in her way’,

all of which again focus on a preconceived image of what a woman should be and look like —simultaneously modest and stunningly beautiful so as not to provoke the older generation’s and public’s judgement.

Siân Lawrence’s sensitive and nuanced direction is yet again a resounding success, to say nothing of the stellar performances of Susie Weidmann and Imogen Boxall, both of whom deftly managed to encompass two polar characters in a single, compact, and touching performance. Play House and Definitely the Bahamas has something for everyone and is well worth a visit for a thought-provoking evening trip to the theatre. 
It still runs at the Michael Pilch Studio on Jowett Walk today (10/02/2023) and Saturday (11/02/2023). Tickets available here.