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Opal Fruits presented by Holly Beasley-Garrigan | Vault Festival

Opal Fruits presented by Holly Beasley-Garrigan
Opal Fruits presented by Holly Beasley-Garrigan

Holly Beasley-Garrigan’s solo show rests heavily on the image of Opal Fruits, and their rebranding as Starbursts in 1998, the suggestion being that this is symbolic of so, so much more. She renames her characters after different coloured sweets, hands a bag of them out to the audience, using them as metaphors for gentrification and redevelopment and the failures of New Labour. A lot of meaning for a bag of sweets, you might say.

So, everyone saw Misty last year, right? Arinzé Kene’s West End transfer made most reviewers lists as ‘Best of 2018’, and rightly so. The ingenious mix of self-examination and microcosmic wit about the changing state of poverty in London made for a non-stop, hilarious, scathing sit-down for well-meaning, ‘part of the problem’ middle-class audiences. Much the same could be said for Opal Fruits, just that it wasn’t as good.

Beasley-Garrigan opens her show by asking ‘Who’s bored of middle-class white women, appropriating narratives of the working class in order to create exciting, provocative performances? Me, too’. And then goes on to do just that. She’s clearly aware of the issue, and gives a kind of disclaimer that she really is working class, she just talks different. But her script fails to travel beyond this. Where Misty manages to lightly touch on a whole host of ‘issues’, despite keeping tightly wrapped to a solid story, Opal Fruits just doesn’t have the same strength or self-confidence.

Now, comparing this show, a first, solo show for a new performer, with a West End transfer from a well-established writer might seem unnecessary. But the script, the issues, the direct address, the use of real-life conversations… everything’s very similar. Yet rather than lose herself in the stories and characters she’s representing, Beasley-Garrigan seems to be more concerned with deconstructing her own class insecurities. Is she appropriating? Is she middle class? Whose story is she telling? Is this theatre or therapy?

She reads poems, dresses up and down, talks to the audience. She wants to break down the expectations of a middle-class audience, listening to a ‘propa nasty working class story’. But in attempting to engage with and break down a narrative, she only perpetuates it. Rather than expose the limits of representation, the script hovers a little bit close to the edge, but lacks the courage to jump the fence and run.

Rather than the ‘stories of working-class mothers’ it tries to be, Opal Fruits feels more like a ‘let’s talk about me’ session. It’s neither specific to cater to an individual target audience, nor general that anyone born after 1995 would get any of the jokes. The unimaginative use of the space means that the people represented aren’t clearly separated, and they all mishmash into one story. Deliberate, maybe. Confusing, probably.

2 gold stars

Review by Thomas Froy

Fresh off the back of a sell-out scratch at Camden People’s Theatre, OPAL FRUITS is an unreliable solo show about the fetishisation of the feral female – about working-class women and the trouble with 90’s nostalgia – spliced with stories from four generations of women who came of age on the same council estate in South London.

OPAL FRUITS is Holly Beasley-Garrigan’s debut solo show. It’s a tongue-in-cheek questioning of the broader implications of faux-working-class cultural trends and a re-claiming and re-casting of the self-congratulatory, spoken-word solo show. The show explores what it means to be making performance as a working-class artist today… to have a stake in two worlds but to feel as though you don’t really fit into either.

In 1998 a much loved British sweet changed its name to – we don’t say that name here. It was all downhill.

Supported by:
Arts Council England
Streatham Space Project
Camden People’s Theatre

23rd – 27th January 2019
Vault Festival


1 thought on “Opal Fruits presented by Holly Beasley-Garrigan | Vault Festival”

  1. Thomas Froy clearly has no understanding of what it means or feels to be a working class woman. This piece is deeply personal, how anyone can experience it and question it’s authenticity is beyond be! No it doesn’t speak to Thomas, it speaks to people like me, who grew up working class and now exist in a different world – the stories of those I grew up with and stories of the families of those I subsequently taught, don’t get told.
    This debut piece is hopefully a starting point for future work – if the correct boxes on the funding form can get ticked!

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