Catherine and Anita

Thu 3rd – Sun 27th August 2017

reviews

Sian Bayley

at 10:34 on 13th Aug 2017

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Internationally acclaimed playwright and director, Derek Ahonen, brings his bold new writing, ‘Catherine and Anita’ to this year’s Fringe. A dark and moving piece that explores the complexities of mental illness as well as the issues accompanying grief and victimhood, this is a powerful show with an important message.

The play begins with Catherine, performed by the talented Sarah Roy, telling her friend Anita about the discovery of her husband’s interest in child pornography. It soon transpires that Catherine has murdered her husband in a subsequent fit of anger, and has called upon Anita for help. The scene is darkly comic, as Catherine, in conversation with the mysteriously absent Anita, makes sarcastic comments about her husband’s welfare and how she should dispose of the body. It really shouldn’t be funny, but Roy makes Catherine immensely likeable; immediately getting the audience on her side.

Roy is an incredible performer, and bravely takes on this frank one-woman-show to demonstrate her impressive acting range. Effortlessly moving between different stages in Catherine’s life, Roy is able to maintain Catherine’s precocious personality throughout, whilst still distinguishing the issues that concern her the most at each age, and react to the characters around her as if they really were beside her. Roy has a knack for catching the eye of spectators with her scared and desperate eyes as Catherine’s story begins to unravel, and her mental health issues become more apparent. Conversations about abusive fathers, inappropriate touching, and violence recur, and the audience begins to examine Catherine in a new light. It is clear she is a victim as well as a criminal, and spectators must weigh up the severity of her actions with this in mind.

The play’s conclusion is particularly moving as Catherine must face up to her actions, and understand the reasons why she behaved in such a way. It is painfully sad to watch this vulnerable woman, desperately in need of help, slip through the cracks of society, but it is also clear that she must take responsibility for what she has done. As one of a number of plays focusing on mental health at this year’s Fringe, it is disappointing that this one almost exclusively focuses on mental health in connection to a self-perpetuating circle of abuse and violence, with little hope of escape. I would like to see more positive pieces that promote open-conversations about everyday mental-health issues, and move away from the stigma of madness that this production inevitably feels connected to. Nevertheless, ‘Catherine and Anita’ is a well-crafted play with a powerful emotional punch that entertains and engages audiences.

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Abi Newton

at 13:35 on 13th Aug 2017

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‘Catherine and Anita’ calls itself a comedy, but don’t go and expect to come away smiling. Derek Ahonen’s one-woman show starring Sarah Roy is a bleak portrayal of a life blighted by sexual abuse and mental illness, documenting the life of Catherine and her one-sided conversations with Anita, her companion since childhood. Staged at different points throughout her life, the web of tragedy and violence soon begins to unravel across the course of the play, Catherine appearing less and less stable.

Despite this, there were frequent titters throughout the audience in response to Catherine’s more eccentric comments, which zigzagged between bright-eyed childhood precociousness – “I read books that will impress someone someday” – to matter-of-fact horror – “Do I need to sharpen this bow saw?” But this was all underpinned with such an unmistakable note of indescribable pain that I found it barely possible to laugh. The more about Catherine is revealed, the sadder it becomes, and as the chasm of her everyday wretchedness unhinges its jaws, the more haunting this play becomes. Terrible actions provoke a cycle of tragedy that, once set into motion, will spiral until it is ended by either violence or decay.

Roy’s performance is charged with a neurotic intensity in every moment and word. From her precisely controlled twitches and stuttering to frenzied roars of fury, she captures the image of a deeply unsettled mind, reeling from unprocessed trauma but buried under a guise of cheery stability. She is particularly stunning in a scene which almost moved me to tears, where, at a restaurant, she relays candidly, for what might be the first time, the story of her life, her stammering hesitations the signal of someone who does not like the weight of the words in their mouth.

The show has a perplexing take in its portrayal of Catherine’s queerness, which slips out both in implicit, coded suggestions – at the age of seven noticing that a girl is pretty – and in the near-constant homophobic remarks to makes to Anita, signifying the internalised homophobia she holds for herself. In one way, this is a very important story to tell as it reflects the cultural rejection of notions of female queerness and violent mental illness. By combining the two in this intersectional narrative, Ahonen highlights the effects of a culture of ignorance surrounding female queerness and socially unacceptable disease. But as a queer woman, I felt incredibly uncomfortable that the use of this homophobic language was framed within the context of comedy – and garnered laughs from the audience. It undermines any solidarity the play may have shown for the most vulnerable queer people by showing that Catherine’s queerness makes her miserable with no road to recovery.

If this were a drama, it would be an incredibly powerful narrative about the consequences of erasure of neuro-divergent queer lives. As this is a comedy, however, it excuses the audience of any culpability in this systematic violence by allowing them to laugh, and instead becomes bizarre and disrespectful to the message it is trying to send.

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