You’re reading this review. So, if you’re not one of these girls, you probably know one. And if you don’t think you do, you do… they’re just hiding it well. Sorry, who am I talking about?
Well. It probably won’t shock you to learn the artists who make the fringe theatre we enjoy (you’re reading this review, aren’t you? I would hope you were on board…) don’t exist on a steady diet of creative fulfilment. They (we) sell you your programmes in the swanky foyers of the West End, survive on tips, sit behind desks bored to tears, or if you’re co-writer Clare Hoey (formerly) work in Shoezone.
So if this is you, what do you do? If you’re Clare Hoey or Bel Knight, you form Mum’s Brigade Theatre and write and perform a play about it. You stage it rather than relegate your experience to the conversations you have with your closest friends in the down times. You bare all your frustrations, misgivings, obstacles and mistakes on the London fringe… but still won’t share them on Instagram. To do this not only in play format but in your debut play is brave. Some might say foolhardy. But it’s a look they wear well.
It’s Not Cute Anymore tells the story of two twenty-somethings Mimi (Knight) and Niamh (Hoey) who work together at Living Well Magazine. They make people look better for a living whilst progressively feeling worse about themselves. Their bitch of a boss doesn’t help, to her, they are “dispensable”. So far, so familiar. But when a life-line lands in their lap in the form of a letter, a shortlisting for a book grant at a swanky publishing house, can they grasp it? As they frantically search for more and more creative ways to tackle the obstacles stacked against them, the absurdity of the race they (and we) are running is laid bare. But the publisher has got more than he bargained for…
Hoey and Knight deliver pitch-perfect performances as the girls try to navigate towards a creative yet professional life via: Harry Potter porno, yoga, twerking, vlogging, nasty women, slut shaming gender identity crisis and anxiety diary haiku about growing basil. It’s a balancing act, but we aren’t patronised with one path to follow. Life isn’t as simple as ‘making it’ or ‘giving up’, and it’s refreshing to see those success-story, all-or-nothing tropes put in their place. Hoey and Knight play the supporting characters of bitch-boss and fading-thespian-aunt with just as much zeal, and some super speedy costume changes.
Harry Potter porno, yoga, twerking, vlogging, nasty women, slut shaming gender identity crisis and anxiety diary haiku about growing basil.
The voice work from Robert Mountford is appropriately swaggering, no man crosses the threshold of the stage but his presence as a disembodies voice is no doubt felt. You’ve “got to have balls” to make it, he reminds Mimi and Niamh. The (de)meaning is not lost on us.
Director Tristan Schumacher’s experience in film comes through in the montage of real-life interviewees, projected and threaded through the chaos of Mimi and Niamh. Questioned on their career ambitions verses their current state, we are invited to question, what are our expectations and how do they meet with our reality? What are our measures of happiness – and of success? How do we present ourselves in relation to these measures? Can we really have it all? Again, a wide spectrum of answers are gleaned, and some of them might surprise you.
We are also treated to snippets of the online lives of Mimi and Niamh. Needless to say, their Instagram stories and Whatsapp group chats tell a different story from what we are presented with in the room. The fallacy of the truth we present to the world runs through the core of this play, and this is a #lol way to expose it (#blessed).
The fallacy of the truth we present to the world runs through the core of this play, and this is a #lol way to expose it
It’s easy to fall for this play head-over-heels, arse-over-tit, when it’s all just all so damned relateable! Hoey and Knight are unabashed in their chalking up of the risks and rewards of pursuing the roller-coaster creative life path, which is by its very nature not for the faint of heart – or the easily offended. But whilst I am hyper aware I am watching the mirror held up, as it were, to my godforsaken millennial generation I can’t help but be reminded of an old couple sat in the front row (no relation – I checked!) chuckling away. It’s a pertinent reminder that every generation feels the same on some level. Different generation, different obstacles, but humour is a reliable antidote. We will all struggle and fall flat on our faces at some point, we’re just not going to shout about it unless we look Cute while we do it.