Starting Out

Birmingham Rep Door


WOMEN & Theatre are a Birmingham based company who put the community at the heart of their projects.

Working in and around the local area, they aim to explore society’s current issues directly with the people who are most affected.

Their outreach programmes include working residential and probation settings. To make art accessible for all is the crux of their company. Taking research and inspiration from interviews with local women, Starting Out explores the experiences of young women in the workplace and shows us the emotions surrounding the pressures of embarking in the new world of work.

Women & Theatre recently performed For the Past 30 Years at the REP, which took inspiration from women looking back at their careers. In Starting Out, the company show the opposite side of the spectrum to highlight the daily experiences of the young, as they look towards the future.

Director Caroline Wilkes interweaves beautiful writing and dynamic performances to deliver an artistic message to all. This project highlights the struggles that many do not see on the surface. It goes beyond the ever-growing expectations and unbreakable personas that are so easily overlooked. It shows the enthusiasm of the young that is far too easily taken for granted.

The play has a simple but strong format. Five monologues written by local writers are performed by five actors, each sharing an experience of the complexity of finding work in the professional world as a young woman. There is a clear definition within each writer’s voice and with every monologue the universal outcome is that demands and expectations are becoming impossible.

In the first monologue, Charlene James presents Standing Tall performed by Jalleh Alizadeh. It shows the story of a young woman about to finish a year-long internship. Despite working illegal hours for virtually no pay, we see a one-sided environment without loyalty to employees which is all too familiar in the modern day. James packs a punch with descriptions of feelings of intimidation when being refused a pay rise.

Whispers is written by local artist and theatre maker Manjeet Mann and was performed by Rosalyn Norford. Mann recently performed at the REP with her brilliant one-woman show Flying Solo. In Whispers, Mann explored the mental struggle that young women face when they suddenly enter the world of work. She describes her piece as the lesser known tragedy of graduate depression and shows the audience that the dream that was sold at university is not exactly the present reality. Mann’s exploration into constant rejection posts the idea of devastating effects.

In The 3rd AD, writer Lorna Laidlaw explores the working life of a young woman within the arts sector. Perhaps Laidlaw has seen the struggle within the workplace first hand, as she is most known for her performances in the local television drama Doctors.

Luanda Holness presents Laidlaw’s piece which pays particular attention to hierarchies within the workplace, with the given expectation to work from the bottom up. Laidlaw adds an extra layer when duties at home clash with the demands of work.

Writer Susie Sillett shows the constant change of emotions when it comes to having days off in her monologue (sorry), which was performed by the marvellous Phoebe Brown. Starting with a can of chickpeas, Sillett shows the escalating consciousness and an internal reminder that ‘people have it worse’, which doesn’t benefit any current situation. Brown embodied Sillett’s impassioned piece with a particularly touching connection, reminding the audience that this truly is a real-life situation. Brown did well to inhabit the feeling of constantly striving to make a difference.

In the final monologue, Janice Connolly writes The Broken Promise. Connolly is a founder member and artistic director of Women & Theatre. Her piece is a fairy tale, taking a metaphorical approach to ‘waiting in line’ for the first opportunity.

Katerina Demetraki performed Connolly’s voice that links the emotions of the previous monologues, ending with an inspiring and uplifting message for the young. This final monologue is the voice of the future, allowing the audience to see the opportunities of life from a new and refreshing perspective.

Starting Out relates to everyone and using real life stories to create an artistic outcome is extremely brave. With their expert collaboration and artistic flair, they allow the audience to reflect upon their own lives to be reassured that they are not alone. To 15-10-16

Elizabeth Halpin



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