Isabel Adomakoh Young’s takeover of the King’s Head Theatre starts in fine form with Mary Lacy Woz Queer
“I’m not between the genders; I’m free of them”
As the attention of the much of the theatre world is diverted by the glitz and glam of the Olivier Awards, and not unreasonably so, it is worth remembering at the same time that there’s much going on in smaller venues across London that is just as vital to the wider theatrical ecology here. Of particular note right now is the King’s Head’s Takeover initiative, giving four mid-career LGBTQI+ artists Guest Artistic Directorships and the chance to programme their own mini-seasons at the Islington pub theatre.
First up is Isabel Adomakoh Young and her Sight Unseen season, a sampling of which I took this weekend. Mark Daniels’ Mary Lacy Woz Queer proved a perfect introduction into Young’s desire to “unpack untold stories & histories”, showcasing an undersung queer historical figure but through a distinctly 21st century lens. Born in 1740, Mary Lacy was a real-life, gender norm-defying person who, upon fleeing her home in Welling, lived for 13 years as William Chandler and became a renowned shipwright in Deptford.
Upon buying her memoirs, modern-day history student Krissy becomes obsessed with her, as delving into Mary’s story chimes with their own exploration of their genderqueer identity. Through an imagined dialogue with a chimney (just roll with it…), Krissy pores over the incredible details of Mary’s life but soon comes up against the trouble with trusting what is in our history books, not least when it comes to minority narratives, and the trickiness of imposing contemporary mindsets on the past.
Daniels’ writing is refreshingly punky, the interplay between Krissy and Mary a constant delight of amusing banter and psycho-analytical insight and any play that can work in references to ‘I Am What I Am’ and Missy Elliott’s ‘The Rain’ deserves much respect. There’s an intelligent look how Mary might have navigated the choices of her life and a sensitive take on Krissy’s struggles today, dealing with a tendency to drown out the outside world as so much ‘blah blah blah’ rather than engaging with it, as difficult as that might be. Riotously funny at times – Rosanna Suppa’s Mary is a hoot – and tenderly affecting in others – Naz Simsek’s Krissy is beautifully drawn – and well supported by Isambard Rawbone in a selection of minor roles, Miko Chrobot’s production is a compelling one that deserves future life.
I also got to taste a bit of Juice afterwards, indulging my love of a bit of improv (though I’m not sure that it actually falls under the Sight Unseen umbrella). Proudly plus-size, Amy Annette, Britt Pay, Karlie Menzel, Ellie Fulcher and Megan Harris’ take on the genre is to use audience suggestions to inspire some real-life observation from a special guest (Alison Spittle this evening) and then riff off those in a series of increasingly deranged scenes. Potatoes and dinosaurs were the triggers but as ever, the real pleasure comes in the absolute tangents that the performers find themselves taking – I’ll never think of Tesco the same way again…