Theatre | Paper Birds – Leeds graduates explore what it means to be a woman

photo: Paper Birds

Leeds University graduates, The Paper Birds, celebrate their tenth anniversary as a theatre company by exploring the passage of time in the lives of different women, in their production of On the One Hand. By extensively researching women of all ages across the North of England, the company use a compilation of real stories given to them to create the different characters within the piece.

The plot follows the narratives of 6 women at different stages in their lives; from the undergraduate student embarking on her exciting adventure into university life to the elderly lady whose memory is fading day by day. The conflicts these characters face are universal and resonate loudly from a female perspective; from questions about commitment to tensions within family relationships.

Having watched previous work by the Paper Birds Company, I particularly enjoyed their nuanced use of creative physical theatre. Special mention has to be given to Illona Linthwaite and her ability to shift from a stable, active 50 year old woman to that of a confused and tragically feeble elderly lady. The elderly lady’s difficulty to remember certain points in her story is accompanied by the remaining cast members enacting out intrinsic hand routines.

The sounds that the movements of the hands made echoed the repeated frustration the weary woman felt and enabled me to sympathise greatly with her exasperation. An innovative set is made up of household objects and furniture which are fixed in interesting positions within a square frame. The cast clamber around and through these fixtures and alternative perspectives are offered to normally mundane scenes. A particularly humorous moment was the travelling character who conducts a Skype conversation through the freezer compartment.

The choices in lighting and music complement the set and aids to the swift changes in character’s stories. Throughout the production, the company highlighted the journey a woman goes through from the child to the adult. References to Romeo and Juliet throughout the piece tell its audience to recognise this change and to accept themselves for who they are as they get older. As the fifth lady’s story is made clear through a repeated voiceover, she says “I used to play Juliet and now I play the nurse”.

As I am currently in my final year, June will mark the limbo period of finishing my degree and deciding what I will actually do with my life. This poignant and moving piece made me realise that life is too short and not always to worry about counting down the minutes.

Claire O’Shea

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