Reviewed by Tallulah Roberts
Upon entering Banham Theatre, the team behind Theatre Group’s ‘Collective Rage’ had transformed the space into a dazzling disco, perfectly apt for the joyous, queer, chaotic hour that followed. With audience seated at cabaret-style tables, and the 5 Bettys perched around the room ready to interact from the get-go, the sense of immersion was instant.
Director Naomi Poole, along with assistant director Julia Brookes, should be commended for their choice to stage the production in this immersive manner. What easily could have been a disorientating experience felt frantic in the best way possible. Whilst occasionally it was a little hard to hear from certain areas of the room, the voices of the Bettys piping up from every corner added a charming sense of chaos to the play, like you were surrounded by friends at a party. Producers Evie Cowen and Jackie Slipper also deserve a round of applause for their contributions to the immersive scene. From the glittering disco ball above the audiences’ heads, to the tables laid with fairy-light filled alcohol bottles, the additions to the (what I often find) drab Banham Theatre lent themselves beautifully to the vivaciousness of the setting.
All photo credits to Abby Swain
Though they all share a name, each Betty was so well crafted as an individual that it never felt confusing as to whom another was referencing, and I can only imagine that Poole and Brookes will have worked meticulously with their actors to guide them in portraying the characters so attentively. With the 5 Bettys come 5 wonderful performances from the actors:
Indie Baigent Wright and Florence Higgins portray the starkly different Betty 1 and Betty 5 (respectively) as their lives in collide. Wright’s ‘very gluten-free, very vegetarian, very alcoholic’ Betty 1 is brilliant. She opens the play with an angry spiel of all the atrocities in the news, which Wright delivers with a subtle rage and stiff upper lip composure, all tied together neatly with a pearl necklace and glass of wine. As her relationship with her cheating husband seems play on her mind, Betty 1 finds refuge in a boxing gym, where she meets the truck-loving, seemingly unphased by anything, genderqueer Betty 5. Higgins plays Betty 5 with an unwavering stoicism and slightly monotone disposition. Although I was unsure of this at first, it was impossible not to let it grow into a love; a deep contrast to Wright’s more grand Betty. In the first scene after they meet, we see them as personal trainer/client where Higgins and Wright lay out a solid foundation on which their Bettys’ relationships can grow; from professional to friendly, and then ultimately as something more romantic/lustful. The pair tell a beautiful queer love story of learning and understanding, and eventually loving the differences between people.
Jasmine Morgan plays the hopeful but hopeless Betty 4, who constantly lives in the shadow of the Betty they love. Morgan’s Betty is first seen painting a toy truck, indicative of their playful but perhaps naïve outlook, as Betty 4 longs for a time before her friends “changed”. Morgan is quieter and more unassuming than some of her fellow Bettys, but their performance is not to be doubted. As is hinted in the title, all the characters come to experience a collective rage about the world around them, and when Betty 4 unleashes hers, Morgan delivers. Their frantic hand gestures and unsteady voice convey Betty 4’s inner frustration well and demonstrate Morgan as a versatile actor who can deliver both timidness and bitterness convincingly.
Arguably the biggest outsider in the group is Betty 2, played wonderfully by Maisie Stalham. Stalham is both hilariously awkward but charming and adorable in her role as the complacent housewife. Being childless, this Betty’s only friend is a hand puppet to which she monologues throughout the play (which Stalham shines in), and with a husband who is always working, Betty 2 is helplessly lonely. This loneliness is what drives her to the other Bettys who are, to her, electric. Stalham’s performance was a firm highlight for me. She performs with a cutesy awkwardness, coupled with a natural youthfulness that makes her completely lovable to watch. Not to mention, the final scene where Stalham performs a comedic ditty on the ukulele, had the audience rightfully in stitches alongside her.
Last but certainly not least is Alice Waller as the flamboyant, melodramatic thespian Betty 3, who quits her job at the No.7 counter in Boots in order to commit her life to the “thea-tah”! Although there were some moments in the play that felt like they needed an injection of energy, this was never when Waller was onstage. She commanded the space in every scene, prompting endless laughter from the audience. A key part of the immersive experience was the Betty’s interactions with audience members, and Waller certainly led by example in how to captivate and engage with them. With striking eye contact, hilarious throwaway adlibs, and an unwavering confidence, Collective Rage is not one to miss for Alice Waller’s performance alone.
Chaotic, messy and beautiful, Collective Rage is a testament to Theatre Group’s ongoing success as a drama society. Poole and Brookes’ have done a spectacular job with Jen Silverman’s script and have produced something that, if nothing else, is a right hoot of an hours viewing.
Collective Rage runs until 17th November 2022 in Banham Theatre, Michael Sadler Building.