Benjamin Wolff reviews

BEDFEST 2020: Twice Over

Twice Over begins with the soft melodies of an acoustic guitar played live on stage as audience members enter to find their seats. Yet, do not let this gentle introduction of melodious music lull you into any sense of comfort and security. Written by Eve Simpson and Jane Prinsley and performed by Eve Simpson and Francesca Sellors, Twice Over is a challenging and engaging play which follows the plight of two quite different working-class women both struggling with issues of politics and representation - one under the government of Margaret Thatcher, the other under the government of Theresa May.

The play hinges upon the failures of government to provide support for these two women in contrast to the love and protection they achieve or wish to achieve from their local communities. There is a strong narrative of localism and community values which is ever emphasised by the musical interludes of ‘Community Song’ performed by Eve Simpson. During two tumultuous times in which the position of a female prime minster encourages women to become increasingly reflexive upon the status of women in society and women in politics, community seems to offers a structure of support they find lacking elsewhere. It is a play composed of a myriad of intriguing devices. The play begins with a Shakespeare-esque opening monologue, performed in rhyming couplets, a rhyme scheme that reoccurs periodically throughout the play adding emphasis to key utterances. The lighting is muted and subtle, as is the set and design which focuses attention on the women acting and the words they utter.

The play’s greatest moment occurs at the climax in which both women must cast their votes in the general election. The scene is performed with a staggering visual dualism and cross temporal dialogue, as each woman in their respective periods struggle with the complexities of their position in who they should vote for. It climaxes in a powerful moment in which one decides to cast their vote ‘For the Many and not the Few’ whilst the other crumples the ballot paper in her hand uttering ‘A cross in a box. What for?’. As the viewer is sympathetic to the plights of both women, each respective action seems powerful and empowering for their own unique reasons. It is this complexity and contradiction which brings so much greatness to Twice Over.

The final scenes of the play demonstrated immense fervour in both writing and performance. Each character offers impassioned speeches on the futility of voting, the lack of representation for women and the working class within politics, the expectations of womanhood. and the changing but ever-present structural obstructions to success and freedom that women must suffer in society. The comprehensive representation of these inner struggles is so impressive that it occasionally verges upon the tone of a lecture. The last speeches of the play demand upon the viewer to reconsider their fundamental concepts of politics, ideology and community. The play ends on a polemical and deeply personal tone, in which the viewer can truly feel the political zeal of the writers.

Twice Over performed at the Bedlam Theatre on 22 January 2020, as part of BEDFEST 2020.