REVIEW: The Penetration Play (Above the Stag) ★★★

In the past, Above the Stag has played host to almost entirely male-focused gay plays, which of course drew attention to the fact that there weren’t many lesbian plays walking through its doors. Well, with a fabulous new location and returb comes a change in the wind: Winter Miller‘s dark comedy, ‘The Penetration Play‘, has arrived at the Stag.

The performance begins with an introduction to Rain (Tayla Kenyon) and Ash (Miriam O’Brien), inseparable friends in their twenties. They do the usual stuff: go for runs together, discuss the intimate details of their relationships, moan about their mothers – except that Rain happens to be in love with Ash. Unfortunately for her, Ash has her eyes firmly focused on the male gender…or does she? The play aims to explore the complicated crossover between a strong friendship and deep affection, with the added viewpoint of Ash’s long-married and dutiful mother, Maggie (Janet Prince). The three women have more in common than they first realise, and through three separate acts we learn a great deal about the different desires of each woman.

The final act was by far the most powerful, hitting me in an emotional spot where the former two hadn’t quite. Kenyon’s performance as Rain was outstanding here, reaching a level of elegance that the script had not demanded from the earlier scenes. She describes what it feels like to be a gay woman searching for love in a pool of women who ultimately view their encounters as a “moment of wildness” and a “phase”, before settling down into a heterosexual, ‘standard’ relationship with a man. This part of the script was nuanced, heart-wrenching and raw, exposing a number of little-discussed issues within the lesbian community and challenging the air of illegitimacy surrounding lesbian relationships.

Alternaticely: the playfighting scenes were far too drawn-out and, at times, a bit cringe-worthy, quite unaware of how tiresome it may be getting to the audience. In general, some audiences may find they get jittery-leg syndrome with the three-part structure of this play; at times the dialogue felt overly long, and I found myself wishing that another character would walk in to mix things up a bit.

This reenactment is vibrant and modern, filled with overtly dramatic outbursts and passion turned up high. At times this appeared somewhat unpolished, and I felt a lack of genuine connection between the actors, especially in the sofa scenes. But nevertheless, the topics discussed in this are incredibly poignant and shoots straight at the heart of many common stereotypes and frustrations felt by the lesbian and gay community – ultimately of credibility and legitimacy. A talented cast and a great beacon for further variety at the Stag.

Reviewed by Laura Evans
Photo: PBGStudios


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