Alice Downing and Kitty Hughes
Big Loop Theatre Company
Seligman Studio, Chapter, Cardiff
Last year, Big Loop brought us Flowers, a tale about two young men comically failing to run a florist's, which began inconsequentially, but slowly morphed into a meditation on coping with loss and unwanted adulthood. Flours is its “spiritual sequel”, giving us a female perspective.
We find ourselves in a bakery, represented minimally using a table and several crates. There is also a whiteboard, which displays the range of items on offer, but is later utilised with rather more inventiveness.
Alice Downing’s Billie appears first, followed by Dani: Kitty Hughes. It is quickly established that they have been engaged as temps, to spend the day running a bakery, despite neither of them having the first idea about baking other than via experiments with microwave ovens and the exotic confections conjured up on Masterchef.
Unlike the characters in Flowers, Kitty and Dani are initially unfamiliar with one another, and seem very different characters—Kitty ostensibly quite naïve, Dani more cynical and hard-headed. The more we learn about them, however, and the more they learn about one another, the multi-layered nature of the characterisations becomes clearer.
There is much clowning and slapstick, but it becomes more pointed as the hour-long show progresses. Acknowledging the audience throughout, Dani and Billie exchange tales of career stress, sexually exploitative males, unreliable boyfriends, menstruation (in the show's publicity materials we are encouraged to donate feminine hygiene items to student charity Periods in Poverty), eating disorders, unsatisfying journeys of self-discovery, body image issues and unrealistic expectations set up by the media.
The storytelling is episodic, giving the impression of randomness, as the theme—societal pressures on young women—becomes clear. Duncan Hallis directs nimbly, and one imagines (and I may well be making a grossly sexist assumption) that his role largely involved imposing discipline on the apparently freewheeling narrative, whilst maintaining its paciness.
Downing and Hughes display excellent comic timing—the former also showing off her balletic and flute-playing skills; as both actors and authors they showcase their characters’ toughness and vulnerability and dreaminess and harsh realism with charm and adeptness. And despite the underlying gravity of the show’s premise, we are never too far from an off-colour joke, usually involving bodily fluids.
The show is built on the appearance of disorganisation, and is thus dependent on technical expertise of the crew—the use of lighting is especially effective.
There are moments where one is utterly bemused, but then, this is the point: whatever one’s gender (and age) the real world is oppressive and confusing. Flours conveys this sad truth in a surreally amusing manner.
Reviewer: Othniel Smith