New one-woman play WEAVE is a dark comedy about a young woman with possessed hair extensions. It is produced by local theatre company ArtGroupie and explores modern social issues around women’s body image, social media pressure, mental health, and societal superficiality. We spoke to playwright John Maguire about the project.
Tell us a bit about ArtGroupie, the production company behind this new show.
ArtsGroupie is a Liverpool-based theatre production company that promotes the arts in the North West. Our aim is to not only showcase our work in big cities, but to take theatre to overlooked places where access to the arts is limited, bringing workshopping and educational opportunities to those areas. We have a particular interest in producing and promoting work that champions women and the LGBTQIA+ community.
ArtsGroupie was established after our ACE funded project KITTY: Queen of the Washhouse, which sold out performances at St.George’s Hall. The production was also taken around primary schools, where we facilitated history workshops and taught the kids Mill songs. We even performed in St Vincent de Paul’s school, the site of Kitty’s original washhouse and finally the play went on a rural tour of Shropshire.
Kitty will be returning back to St Georges Hall on March 7 2020, then on to London and New York City. I feel we are ambassadors of Liverpool through telling Kitty’s story, and showing something that is in the DNA of most Scousers – pure resilience.
WEAVE is a bit of a departure from your previous show KITTY: Queen of the Washhouse. Where did the idea for this show come from?
I wrote a short story called WEAVE about a girl called Arabella who buys a possessed hair extension after spending time with my teenage cousin in Scotland who everyday would come out of her room with a completely different look, her prized possession was ‘Real Russian hair’. It fascinated me where the actual “real” hair came from and I called the character Arabella because in the book Jude the Obscure, Jude’s wife is called Arabella. On the night of their wedding day she takes off her hair extension and says it is no longer needed as she had captured her man. It was originally a 30 minute piece staged as part of a festival in the Lantern theatre. After the success of Kitty, we wanted a new challenge and something comic. Enough of cholera and Victorian life, Margaret and Sam went straight into developing this piece and creating a contemporary narrative arc that was relevant and wrote new material. We workshopped and researched social media, the internet listening to everything and regurgitating adverts at you 24:7, the beauty industry and the pressures on people. This has all found its way into the piece.
The show is about a Scouse girl’s relationship with her appearance; something Scouse girls are often pilloried for in the media (press coverage of Aintree etc). How important is it to take back that narrative and push back against negative stereotypes?
Completely! And to refuse to be driven by how we ‘should’ look: to be happy with who you are as an individual and not afraid to not follow the crowd. The Daily Fail gets a good slating in the piece. Their treatment of people in general is disgraceful, particularly the bullying around Aintree. They also do it to all working-class women in race meetings around the country, not just the North. It’s disgusting really.
Hopefully, by us highlighting their cruelty, people will be more switched on to the media manipulation that goes on all the time.
As a society, what kind of impact is social media having on our mental health and self-esteem? How has it changed our relationship to not only our appearance, but how we view our entire lives?
There is no escape from comparison; online, everybody appears to be having an amazing time. People can be bullied around the clock and trolling can be horrendous. The keyboard gives people licence to be cruel.
We are conducting a survey around mental health and self esteem as part of the workshopping around the play and our after-show Q+A sessions will be exploring this further.
You know something is up when people are constantly trying to adhere to images that don’t exist. My eight year old nephew was talking about how he needed a six pack! It’s wrong. Sadly I feel it will get worse, but hopefully people are becoming more aware.
The show features puppetry and shadow play as well as live action. What was the reasoning behind including these extra formats?
These techniques were used during our work on Kitty and it seemed natural to continue to explore ideas and play with the form. It is great to see the fusion of traditional theatre techniques and modern technology. We seem to have a particular, unique style that is evolving – it’s very exciting!
WEAVE is at the Royal Court Theatre tonight and tomorrow, 29+30 Nov at 19:30. Get tickets here.