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The Ladies review

Urine for a ride

Trash-talking, people-avoiding, friendship-making, friendship-breaking, unapologetic selfie-taking: this ladies bathroom has it all. No wonder there’s always a queue outside them.

Written and directed by Alice Tyrrell for Cambridge Queer Season, The Ladies reckons with sex, gender, sexuality, social exclusion. It may be a technically simple play, with minimal use of lighting and music, but the ground it covers is staggering. These themes are too often treated with hyper-precaution, but Tyrell clearly knew what would make her audience tick. While the play exhibits a deep sense of sensitivity and awareness, its sardonic wit caused audience reactions that ranged from smirking to irrepressible hysterics. Straight Season had better watch its back.

Initially, I was sceptical about the set. Sitting in the front row, about three feet from a shabby wooden wall, it felt cramped enough to put the cell in New Cellars. It was quickly explained to the audience that we would be moving to the other side of the wall for the second act. The first act is set outside the ladies bathroom while unseen action simultaneously occurs inside. It opens with a relatable scene of someone using public toilets and another who endures the eternal wait outside. In this case, it is Ella, played by Hannah Lyall, who enters the mysterious realm of the ladies bathroom, and Freddie Bartlett-Evans plays Harry, who loses his girlfriend to it for a substantial part of the play.

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Photo credits: Pol Bradford-Corris

Both characters are forced into supposedly innocent small-talk with the other people entering the bathroom, first shown on Harry’s side. It is an array of his high school friends: gap-yar pals, the vivacious Poppy and apathetic Jess; Lana, a trans character who finds temporary refuge in the ladies bathroom; Joe and Milly, a lovable foil of the main couple; and the elusive Freya, who becomes a whole lot more memorable in the second act. Probably aided by how seamlessly the script flows, all actors seem completely at ease in their roles. It’s not surprising that the play looks equally as entertaining for them as it is for us.

With the continuous stream of people entering the bathroom, both Harry and the audience are kept wondering what’s taking Ella so long. Physically moving seats in the second act literally immersed us into what truly occurs inside the ladies bathroom: an absolute shitstorm.

So get yourself to New Cellars, sit your backside down, and prepare to be blown away.

4.5/5 stars