STILL THE KETTLE SINGS

PLAN Z THEATRE, Pacific Theatre, July 12th - 15th

My Two Pence

My Two Cents

By Liz Gloucester

Until last night I was unaware of the hole that had been slowly widening in my theatrical heart. Vancouver offers so much in the way of beautiful presentations but to find original and developing shows- aside a few contenders- we are limited to Fringe season. Quite literally 'What Happens in Fringe, Stays in Fringe'. We are bombarded with established shows that rake in the crowds as well as having to watch many of the community theatres delivering the same programme as a rival 3 months apart. - 'I'm looking at you followers of Christie and Coward'. Don't get me wrong; I adore darling Noel, and I have read everything ol' Agatha put down in writing. But a lot of it is irrelevant to modern society and completely lacks the important voices and stories we should be listening to. Theatre as a force for positive social change is immensely powerful and 'Still The Kettle Sings' forced me to sit up tall on my comfy Pacific Theatre seat and listen.

 

This show focuses on the 'true lives of extraordinary ordinary women' and is a laudation of beautiful interwoven stories of women by women. This is not a political discourse. It doesn't appeal for feminism but it certainly inspires it. Women's issues within the piece aren't explored as a politician would list them; childbirth, menstruation, education, wage gap, the right to choose etc. The topics on the kitchen table here; scattered amongst the tea cups and children's colouring books are routine, ordinary and to that end utterly fascinating.

 

Four actors and one musician present various scenes, songs and movement sequences based upon interviews granted to several women chosen at random. The show begins and ends with excerpts from these interviews played through the speakers; we hear the women's true voices sandwiching the interpretation being presented. We watch these versatile performers switch characters, temperaments and ages; listening to very different accounts. To focus on one performer at random to demonstrate - we watch Jenna Grubaugh's transition from a woman telling us about her favourite vegetable to grow, to a women regaling us with a rebellious anecdote about the birth of her fourth child, to a woman alone and frightened, awaiting a visit to the hospital for tests. None of these outweigh the other in importance which is what makes this interwoven piece so important. All of our stories matter, from the seemingly mundane and throwaway to huge life-changing events.

 

It is blindingly obvious that the director Eleanor Felton is also a gifted choreographer as the physical work was outstanding. I especially enjoyed the childhood scenes - in one snippet all four actors raided the kitchen set for spoons, sieves and colanders and set about riding motorbikes around the stage. This lightness is then met with the inevitable darkness and more recognisable struggles women contend with, exquisitely presented in the repeated sleepover scene where only one member of four firm friends is clearly without inner conflict.     

 

The music, composed and performed by Mikaela Fuqua is both bewitching and a valuable asset to the show - helping to pull together the various interlocking narratives. At one point she even walks about the set collecting the strewn costumes left behind by the actors and gathering them together in a laundry basket. Quite literally one of the greatest physical metaphors I have seen on stage. There are no stand-out performances from the actors because everything they did was pure and thoughtful; which for a piece that is partly scripted and partly improvised is no mean feat. These women quite simply did what women do the best - they gave birth to something on stage, a tsunami of love for themselves, for the women whose stories they are representing and for women everywhere.   

 

Plan Z Theatre Company is to be congratulated to the highest order for bringing this thought-provoking and delightful show to the Pacific Theatre. I could write pages and pages of what I enjoyed and how much I enjoyed it and how long I will continue to think about how provocative an experience it was; but my word limit won't allow it. My only criticism of this show is that the run is too short - get your tickets now while the kettle sings and before its content is just intangible steam.

By Lillian Jasper

Alongside the bombast of the Vancouver’s big-scale summer musicals, there is a lovely little gem at the Pacific Theatre waiting to be unearthed. Still The Kettle Sings is an unflinching look at the lives and experiences of women, in their own words. It doesn’t aim to be provocative, it’s refreshingly honest and profound in its simplicity. 

We enter the theatre to strings of books adorning the wall on side, and a domestic kitchen setup on the other. The calmness of this modest set is pierced with sounds of primal rage, and immediately, without words, the paradoxical nature of womanhood is laid bare: we must present an exterior of softness and tranquility, all the while rivers of emotion flow underneath the surface. Anger, love, grief, sadness, ambition, lust, despair. All are explored here.

Conceived by director/producer Eleanor Felton, Still The Kettle Sings was devised from interviews with older “extraordinary ordinary” women. Throughout, we hear recordings of the elderly women sharing their stories. Most are fascinating, some mundane, but all are told with equal reverence. It is unfortunate but unsurprising to hear the interviewees stating things such as “Oh, nobody’s ever asked me that!” or “I didn’t think anyone would be interested.”

At times I found the character arcs hard to follow - however, it doesn’t impact enjoyment of the show.  A few character names or scene synopsis in the program would not have gone amiss, though accents and costume pieces helped in a few cases. Also, I found it a bit short at 70 minutes. There were so many scenes jam-packed in, and I felt personally that many of the stories cut off a bit too early - I wanted to hear more, know more. “Then, what?” I wanted to ask more than once. Despite this, the structure and pacing of the show are solid. Light and dark are expertly balanced. After a devastating exploration of maternal grief from Jill Raymond, we are treated to a playfully-told anecdote of a woman in labour from Jenna Grubaugh. 

The four actors all held their own and shone in many moments, taking on the personas of women (and the men in their lives) from childhood to old age. Shona Strutters in particular conveys the physicality of old age well. Shelby Wyminga’s post-birth monologue is miraculously moving. Yet one of the most effective scenes sets the four of them as young teenagers at a sleepover, unable to reveal the torment of their internal lives for the sake of appearances. It’s tense and intimate and brought me right back to my own adolescence.

The score and songs are the creations of Mikaela Fuqua, who never leaves the stage but remains witness to the stories and enhances them with her unique sound and warm vocals. The soundscape is provided not just by Fuqua but the performers as well, using props and pieces of the set, which is very effective. It keeps the show grounded in the ethos of women as creators. 

Devised shows of this nature are an important part of any theatre community, because they set a precedent and they challenge what we are used to seeing on stage. However, the show is not just important, it is also a beautiful way to spend an evening. Here’s hoping that it will inspire other women to share their stories and feel the worth of the wisdom they have to impart. 

Note on the Rating:

This show has been given two pence*minted* by Gloucester - this is the highest rating possible. We highly recommend that you do not miss out on this production which is of the highest calibre of live performance in Vancouver.