The two pieces that make up Therese Steele’s double bill, We Move From Time To Time and Be With Me form an attempt to explore the issues of motherhood and divorce from a feminine perspective. Presented in the form of a theatrical cabaret, the double bill aims to explore a range of issues, from forgiveness and memory to female consciousness. One piece attempts to place Virginia Woolf in unknown territory, while the other uses the prism of three characters to explore the identity of one woman. Yet the dialogue between the two pieces is weakly articulated, the cast loosely connecting them together, more so than their shared thematic concerns. What unites them is the things that don’t quite work: a lack of particularity and a vagueness which isn’t overcome by any potent theatrical articulation.
The first piece, We Move From Time To Time, is overly-reliant on Michael Cunningham’s The Hours. It tells the fictional story of how a slightly delusional Virginia Woolf ends her life after failing to cure her problems by getting her barely conscious husband to impregnate her. Told by an imaginary friend, who appears to be stuck in a cocktail party somewhere in the mid 80’s (at least judging by her dress), the narrative is blurred to the point where it becomes a string of unexplained assertions. The story-teller and her confidant are so engrossed in their conversation that they manage to dilute it to banal chit-chat, the kind of gossip session one might try to avoid hearing on the tube. The piece requires that its audience has at least some pre-existing knowledge of Woolf’s life, without this it would be hard to follow. The intention might have been to shift the focus away from the iconic author and show how her image has become common – and commonly abused – property. However the piece fails to elaborate on the exact relationship between Woolf and the narrator – is it real or fabricated?- and allows the actress portraying the author to reduce her role to that of a naive caricature of an insane person.
The ‘theatrical cabaret’ label is misleading, with nothing more than a motionless disco ball in the actual performance to justify this name. In this, a twenty minute version of a longer work, the cabaret elements are put aside, so it remains unclear why the authors would build a performance around a genre only to decide it’s not relevant enough to remain part of their work’s skeleton.
The second piece of this double bill, Be With Me, is less thematically cloudy. Steele creates a portrait of a woman who, having been through a painful beak up (or possibly even a divorce), is trying to rebuild her life. But while the piece is clearer in its intentions, the themes never develop beyond the generic. The performance is nothing more than a statement on how troublesome starting over can be. Where we might expect all sorts of gender issues to raise their heads and for the piece to explore what it is to be female, alone and no longer young, we are instead offered a series of overused dramartugical and performative stereotypes. One story is told by three different women, via intimate confessional monologues. A pile of sand sits on the stage, a predictable metaphor of debris, ashes and rebuilding. There are some engaging moments, some hints at irony, particularly scene in which a woman’s self-righteous account of finding a new life in volunteer work, which is met at first with giggles and then open laughter. Unfortunately that is as far as Be With Me ever steps away from the verge of a cliche.
The two pieces both feel undeveloped in their own ways, lost in a sea of ideas and themes that never quite translate into coherence. Both are overly reliant on initial associations and fail to explore things further, leading to a dwindling in audience interest.