theSpace on the Mile – Space 2
Giving a dysfunctional portrayal of the 50s housewife, this Fringe First winning masterpiece, by Chloe Rice and Natasha Roland, uses absurdism to question the expectations that society has nowadays towards women. Imagine if The Stepford Wives and Groundhog Day had a baby and Eugène Ionesco was their godfather…
The pastel-tinted setting, softly spoken demeanour and strict adherence to the norms that the role of housewife entails are in striking contrast with a more private dimension of throbbing rap music and feverish queer fantasies. At second glance, those yellow, pink or green hues are no longer a reassuring feature, but a smear on their clothes or a jarring colour that doesn’t conform to our expectations – like the bright green spaghetti that they consume voraciously. Everyday mannerisms like never returning an empty dish, or making sure that dinner is ready when the husband gets home, here trip like a broken record and subvert a controlled environment.
As in many absurdist classics (think Ionesco’s The Bald Soprano), the script goes in circular motions (think Groundhog Day). A plot in the traditional sense of the term is hardly identifiable, replaced by the same handful of scenes revisited multiple times, with some changes. There is a skeleton conversation that is repeated in the different scenarios, acquiring new meaning with every interaction, depending on the circumstances. It is a fascinating way to highlight the ambiguity of language and, at the same time, its versatility in adapting to environment.
Everything always starts with Dotty (Rice) standing on the threshold of Shirley’s house (Roland). She is taking back an (empty!) oven casserole that once contained one of Shirley’s delicious dishes. It is a very formal exchange, loaded with all the pleasantries and pretence of two well-bred ladies of the house. As the act is repeated, darker undertones emerge, and the lines are switched between characters or delivered in a different order.
With absurdist plays often accused of being inaccessible, I must say how entertaining and easy to watch this one is, enlivened by razor-sharp writing and pinpoint accurate movement. Loyal to one of the genre’s staples, the title itself leaves big questions hanging: who ate the baby? And whose baby was it in the first place, as no baby is ever mentioned?
Winning back-to-back Fringe First awards, Xhloe and Natasha (which is how you’ll often find their names on billboards) are arguably the most promising young theatre-makers to emerge from Edinburgh in recent years. Their work is weird, wonderful and effortlessly becomes a classic in its own right.
Written and Directed by: Chloe Rice and Natasha Roland
Produced by: Chloe Rice and Natasha Roland in association with TheSpaceUK
What If They Ate The Baby? played as part of EdFringe 2023.