Stars explained: * A production of no real merit with failings in all areas. ** A production showing evidence of not enough time or effort, or even talent, and which never breathes any real life into the piece – or a show lumbered with a terrible script. *** A good enjoyable show which might have some small flaws but has largely achieved what it set out to do.**** An excellent show which shows a great deal of work and stage craft with no noticeable or major flaws.***** A four star show which has found that extra bit of magic which lifts theatre to another plane.
Half stars fall between the ratings

Girls just want to have fun . . .

Why is John Lennon wearing a skirt?


Crescent Theatre


WHY is John Lennon wearing a skirt? was Birmingham born Claire Dowie’s award winning one-woman show from 1990’s Edinburgh Festival, stand-up theatre . . .

But this is Stage2 we are talking about here, and, as anyone who has been to a Stage2 performance knows, they don't do monologues, they do manylogues . . . so for a one woman show, how about a cast of 84.

Director and founder Liz Light makes a promise that every term, every child who wants to be in a production will be, with no audition, and keeping that promise demands not only imaginative script interpretation, adaptation and directing but no mean skill in crowd control.

There is a scene, for example when the entire cast depict a crowded cinema, and with no props to help, just an empty stage, we are presented in seconds with a tiered wall of faces as if seated in a cinema, heads moving in unison, Wimbledon style, as comments and observations come from six girls spread in the aisles.

It is remarkably effective and despite having numbers to rival the audience at an almost full Crescent, the cast are so well drilled and disciplined that at the times when everyone is on stage it always looks controlled, choreographed, never a rabble, seen best perhaps in the speed everyone gets on and off stage - as well as appearing in aisles and upon balconies at regular intervals.

The production also included a more than half decent live band on a shelf at the back of the stage reeling off Beatles numbers with Charlie Reilly, who is also musical director, playing a mean keyboard, keyboard, Alex Earle on drums, Mark James on lead guitar, George Mee on bass and Jacob Otomewo and the impressive Ella Otomewo as backing singers.

But back to the 84 woman, and man, show. which Dowie herself, along with Colin Watkeys, her director and producer - both patrons of Stage2  -  have worked on with Light and the cast to create this huge production out of a simple, no frills, monologue.

Last month the pair even ran a workshop for Stage2 members to explore the play, what it was about and what it was trying to say, so this production is not only new but straight from the horse’s mouth.


Dowie’s original monologue is a sort of coming of age piece about someone who does not want to come of age, set in the 60s and 70s. It is a time when boys have all sorts of heroes and the girls have . . . well Barbie, and, at a push, Lulu and Sandy Shaw. But they don’t speak and they don’t have opinions, they just stand around and try to look pretty. Claire wants more than that . . . oh and she wants to play football, and fight and do all the things boys do. In fact she wants to be a boy because they have more fun.

So its bye bye Barbie and hello Beatles, the rebel, non-conformist and heroic fab four - she even takes to secretly calling her three best friends, played by Isabella Jones-Rigby, Goldie Mutta and Sophia Adilypour, George, Paul and Ringo while she, of course, is John Lennon – and forced to wear a skirt by school convention.

Light manages to squeeze 14 Claire’s out of the script, four young, Ellie Waide, Izzy Cremins, Violette Sprigg and Emily Cremins, six middle aged – moving up to secondary school – Laura Dowsett, Phoebe Stephenson, Emily Hawtin, Teigan Jones, Alice Nott and Meg Luesley and then four old Claires, heading out of teens and beyond in the safe hands of Chloe Jennings, Sarah Middlemiss, Annabel Butcher and Rose Nisbit.

Being Claire nos 1-14 is not an easy part as the sentences of a monologue are broken into snatches said by different Claires, but they still have to flow as if spoken by one person which demands both timing and complete confidence in the lines and not a slip was noticed all night.

Each group of Claires became in effect one person, one Claire speaking with one voice.

 A special mention though for Rose Nisbet, tasked with a long monologue towards the end as Claire tries to continue being a tomboy long after all her friends have succumbed to conformity and femininity. This is a Claire in transition when year's of frustration, of not fitting in, nor wanting to, a turned into words. 

 It is a speech about individuality, about equality, about gender which takes the play out of the cosy realms of nostalgia about growing up the 60s and 70s, that time ofmini-skirts, swinging 60s pop, glimpses of navy blue knickers and fumbling hands at the cinema. Suddenly it has become grown up theatre posing real questions about how society sees women and their role, and how women see themselves; questions which are little more answered now then they were on the play’s 1990 debut or in the 60s and 70s when it was set.


I suppose you could say they are playing themselves but the many Claires and huge ensemble gave a remarkable accurate impression of giggling, chattering schoolgirls, not easy to recreate, while the crocodile of would be Lothario boys, initially running away at the first glimpse of gusset and eventually turning into office lechers was a nice touch.

We had the first dances, boys one side of the room girls the other - what happened to the girls dancing around the handbags? - the first signs of sexual awakening, of macho strutting and female attempts at attraction, the boyfriends and breakups, jobs for the boys and nursing and secretary for the girls, and . . . well just growing up

Some of the more explicit parts of the original, such as Claire’s rather fundamental definition of femininity, were wisely omitted but there is still plenty of female anger and frustration in there, such as Claire’s bitter assertion that society “saw me as nothing more than breeding equipment, a womb, a womb-man.”

And this is no women’s lib tirade, Claire is as dismissive of that movement, with its everyone is the leader structure and its hatred of men, as she is of the middle class luvvies at the arts centre where she works for while, where every little “issue” had to be discussed by everyone at a meeting.

A mention too for Claire’s mum and dad, Helen Carter and Connor Fox. Both actors have been around at Stage2 for some time and have fully embraced the Stage2 philosophy that only props are inanimate on stage. Even sitting on the balcony at the side with nothing to say they are part of the action with gestures and expressions to show they are alive, characters who have a part in what is going on, if only as observers.

Their parts are not huge but enough to be noticed and Carter, in particular, is showing a remarkable stage presence these days. The butterflies might well be fluttering in their thousands inside, but outside she has a natural, calm, confident manner; early signs she might possess that indefinable "it" which makes for a bright future treading the boards - if that is what she wants.

 Stage2 are one of the leading youth theatres in the country and the level of discipline, commitment, and sheer hard work – you never see a prompt listed in a Stage2 programme, nor hear one – is there for all to see with productions as good and professional as this. As for the answer . . . well boys then had more fun, and, it seems, all the Claires believe they still do! To 19-04-14.

Roger Clarke


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