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Six Serpents and a Tarantula at The Hen and Chickens Theatre | Review

Five sex workers recreate the fabled tale of an 1880s sex worker, the so-called ‘Lady in Blue’. In this somewhat Brechtian, slightly confusing but certainly entertaining story, we go back to the Old West where an epic tale unfurls before our eyes.

Six Serpents and a TarantulaAs you walk in, you are greeted by the 5 performers warning you of the great events we will encounter in the following 90 minutes. From here, the actors spin a gun to decide who plays who, this was a tad cumbersome, although it did straightforwardly show that the ‘Lady in Blue’ is representative of many women living in that time. Costumes donned, stage guns fake-loaded and horses raring to go we launch into a full-blown Spaghetti Western. Betrayal, standoffs and bar brawls keep the audience engrossed in the plot, and that is quite unusual nowadays. Gone are the days of plot-heavy theatre, the theatre-going audience favours an approach of very little happening and people finding things out. The plot is compelling and engaging, but too much emphasis is placed on the events, and very little time is spent on the significance of such events and the fallout from such happenings.

‘The Lady in Blue’ this time played by (Eliza Jayne Gilroy) was good, a strong stage presence and conviction in her performance gave the play a grounded and reliable foundation. Jessica Mattarelli offered a good performance as one of the many men inexplicably named William Wheaton (no not the actor from Star Trek), and in caricature, played on stereotypes of Old West making for an entertaining satirical figure. The rest of the company felt a little uncertain about their performance. I don’t think this was helped by the roulette casting especially as we are all still getting to grips with performing.

I am a strong advocate for having a dramaturg on most shows, but I would say that, given that I am a dramaturg myself. For those not familiar a dramaturg works somewhere between actors, writers and directors looking holistically at the show and making sure the sense of the show is ok. Six Serpents and A Tarantula was a little all over the place, the writing was very dense and a lot happened, so much so that the more intriguing performances and relationships were never given room to develop or become something truly compelling. Rules about the performance like never leaving the stage were quickly abandoned and in doing so lost some of the Brechtian grit.

All in all, I certainly enjoyed a feminist romp set in the Old West. It might have benefitted from giving more time to what worked and spending less time on all the complicated plot, but all the same, it had some great points and was a great ride.

3 Star Review

Review by Tom Carter

Old School Players present Six Serpents and a Tarantula.

Arland Town. Wyoming. The year of our Lord 1888.

Five brothel girls meet to play a dangerous game. They are telling the true story of the Woman in Blue, what was done to her, and what she did in revenge. Who plays who is down to chance.

Critically-acclaimed all-female theatre company Old School Players brings us an Old West tale of vengeance and love, treading softly on the graves of those whose everyday existence was a dance with death.

With 120 possible casting combinations, our five players decide who steps into whose boots with a spinning gun at each performance.

Cast and Creative:
Eliza Jayne Gilroy – Belle Drewry
Stella von Koskull – Rose Williams
Jessica Mattarelli – William Wheaton
Lucy Millett – Blind Bill Hoolihan
Imogen Read – William Gallagher

Movement director – Sharol Mackenzie
Music director – Imogen Read
Costume design – Talia Le Sueur
Costume construction – Eliza Jayne Gilroy
Writer/director – Maryanna Clarke

Six Serpents and a Tarantula
15th & 16th August 2021
The Hen and Chickens Theatre
https://www.unrestrictedview.co.uk/

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