5 Lesbians Eating A Quiche – Old Joint Stock, Birmingham

Writers: Evan Linder and Andrew Hobgood

Director: Karl Steele

Reviewer: Selwyn Knight

Ginny has moved to mid-1950s America from England and feels herself strangely drawn to The Susan B Anthony Society for the Sisters of Gertrude Stein, a society for women that proudly claims that arm in arm they are the equal of any man.

Every year the society holds a quiche breakfast and members bring quiches to honour the egg and be judged. While Ginny might have enjoyed being measured for the inside seam of a trouser suit by Veronica (‘Vern’) she still has no idea why a society of single ladies might call themselves ‘widows’ or sisters – despite being warned by her parents that America is rife with secret lesbian societies which WILL suck her in.

It’s the 1956 quiche breakfast and the audience is co-opted into the society. Even though it’s the middle of the Cold War with both America and the USSR carrying out nuclear tests, the sisters live in an exciting Technicolor world where the prospect of seeing and tasting the quiches is most exciting. The new community centre has been made pretty much bomb-proof thanks to Vern, who always travels with a wrench in her bag.

An awful lot of repressed sexuality is on show as the officers’ hormones run amok when they taste the offerings. Plenty of body language clearly telegraphs that both the quiche and the egg are charged sexual metaphors so it doesn’t take too much imagination to work out why they would be so shocked that one year a (now ex-)member submitted a sausage quiche. Our cast of five is brittle and artificially bright as they sublimate their repressed sexual feelings.

But then the worst happens: an atomic bomb is dropped and the community centre seals itself. In true Protect and Survive style, it won’t reopen for four years and the society may well be the last people on earth. Under stress, the veneer of outward respectability is stripped away and at last they can be honest with themselves and free of the expectations of society. Dark secrets tumble out but it seems as if the future might not be so scary after all.

5 Lesbians Eating A Quiche is a romp through the restrictive norms and expectations of Cold War America. It’s also great fun as the five characters interact and as their true pecking order becomes clear. There are moments of poignancy, but they are quickly dismissed in favour of the next gag. It does occasionally feel as if it is a one-joke sketch overstretched, but the over-the-top performances by the cast maintain the pace and drive us swiftly on. It hardly matters that they are somewhat two-dimensional caricatures. Melissa Westhead as Lulie Stanwyck is clearly the overbearing alpha female, normally cool, calm and in charge. Lisa MacGregor is Wren Robin, our excitable attention-seeking organiser, while Dru Stephenson’s Vern is the practical one who has made the community centre so safe. Most depth probably comes from Emma Waterford’s Dale Prist who has a dark secret in her past. Then there’s perennial outsider Ginny Cadbury (Perdita Lawton) – prissy and buttoned up, she fights hardest to deny her true self, though when she gives in to her feral instincts it’s a joy to watch.

The cast plays it pretty straight as women in denial even as their body-language screams out their true natures; the sure directorial hand of Karl Steele ensures that their performances remain light even when a more serious social commentary lurks under the surface laughter.

The in-house production team at the Old Joint Stock goes from strength to strength, on this occasion providing a hilarious evening full of non-stop jokes. Nevertheless, 5 Lesbians will have you reflecting on the journey society has made since those primary coloured dark days of the 1950s.

Runs until 15 October 2017 | Image: Adam Lacey

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The Central team is under the editorship of Selwyn Knight. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.

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