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Queen for a Day, Upstairs at the Gatehouse

Hayley Atkinson
Directed by Will Bird

Pros: A thought-provoking conversation between two intriguing characters, strong performances.

Cons: Drags a little bit at points even though it was only an hour long.

Our Verdict: An interesting premise that ultimately left me feeling a bit uncertain at the end.

Courtesy of BitLip Theatre

Queen for a Day is one of the many shows that has appeared at the Camden Fringe Festival. At the very top of Highgate Hill, in a relatively well known fringe venue, Upstairs at the Gatehouse, Queen for a Day sees the audience transported into the 1960s and into the world of two young women. We witness them go from strangers to confidants in a one hour slot of stories and confessions. Using clips from an American game show in which women of the 1960s competed to win big prizes, Hayley Atkinson’s script explores the boundaries between sanity and insanity.

By setting it in the 1960s, Atkinson adds an extra dimension to the play; the struggle of young women in America trying to juggle the issues that burdened their gender at the time. This combines with the still very relevant stigma surrounding mental health to allow the show to fit nicely into the 21st century, making it an attractive show for audiences who enjoy being subtly challenged at the theatre.

We explore both sets of issues, brought about by the unstableness of those around them, and we are left a little bewildered at the end when we discover everything wasn’t quite what it seemed. The premise is interesting if a little unbelievable. The characters are also intriguing, particularly Cynthia, played by Atkinson herself. Judy (Nichola Woolley) is a little dull by comparison, her issues more obvious, her character a little more pliable, seemingly weaker. I found myself less interested in her monologue even though it was thoughtfully put together. However, Judy also provides the most intense moment of the play at the end, where direction and performance came together nicely to give the audience serious pause for thought. Woolley needed no script at this point, her physical performance was pitch perfect and an excellent way to end the show.

Hayley Atkinson and Nichola Woolley are strong performers, they demonstrated a real understanding of the size of the space, recognising everyone in the audience can see clearly every twitch in their faces, and their control and concentration was impressive.

I enjoyed the show and the complex issues shrouding these women, however I left the theatre feeling like I should have a more clear understanding of what it was trying to tell me. While the topic was appealing, the characters were a bit bizarre and the message, if there was one, was slightly unclear. However it is great to see new plays making their way onto the scene. I always get slightly concerned when I see something performed and written by the same person but Queen for a Day allows Atkinson to show she is capable of both writing and acting. I think if she focused on one or the other there is potential for her scripts to become really interesting or her performances to shine, but either way BitLip Theatre is a company to key an eye on.

Please feel free to leave your thoughts and comments in the section below!

Queen for A Day has sadly finished its run at Upstairs at the Gatehouse. It was produced by BitLip Theatre, and more details about them and their upcoming performances can be found online: http://bitliptheatre.wordpress.com/

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