3Women theatre review: Katy Brand creates a resonant show | Theatre | Entertainment
“It feels like a key moment. The world feels so turbulent and women are forging ahead, shoulders forward, trying to stick together and to share cross-generational experiences; with women finally being believed about what they’ve been through,” adds the 39-year-old comedian, actress and writer.
“It feels like an important time for women to stick together and to keep our eyes focused on the kind of future we want to create. I want to be part of that and to contribute.”
Brand doesn’t appear in the play.
The lead roles are taken by Maisie Richardson-Sellers (best known for superhero series Legends Of Tomorrow), as the gender fluid Laurie, TV and theatre actress Debbie Chazen as her mother Suzanne, and former EastEnders star Anita Dobson as her gran Eleanor.
Dobson agrees it’s a well-timed tale, given the prominence of the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements and reveals she’s been no stranger to sexual harassment in the past: “I defy a woman of my age not to have been affected by it in some way,” the 69-year-old sighs as she and Brand take a break from rehearsals.
“I was born in the East End and my mum always said the way to deal with it was ‘a quick punch to the stomach and then a knee straight up, darling!’ Basically what she was saying is that you can say no. I’ve worked in pubs and restaurants from when I was a student and if a man was inappropriate with you then a glass of what-have-you thrown in his face would soon put a stop to it.”
Brand laughs at the image. Hearing stories from women of different generations is what first inspired her to write 3Women.
“The original spark,” she explains, “was the idea of hearing them talk to each other about what it’s been, to them, to be a woman in terms of ambition, life, family, career, freedom, sexuality – all those things.”
She’d had the idea for a while: “Then it suddenly felt very relevant and exciting,” says Brand, adding that although the play isn’t about #MeToo and #TimesUp as such it’s about putting women centre stage.
When Dobson’s agent sent her the script she was immediately keen to play alcoholic Eleanor: “She’s cornered by her daughter, whom she has a difficult relationship with, and they’re in this room with her granddaughter too and a lot of drink. Slowly they get down to the nitty gritty and old issues begin to come up. It’s a fascinating eruption.”
Can the actress most famous for playing boozy barmaid Angie Watts relate to the character in any way? “On so many levels, yes. It’s funny because I was at home the other night and Brian asked me ‘Are you speaking as Eleanor now?’ ” The wife of Queen guitarist Brian May adds: “Eleanor’s funny, smart and elegant; she loves Italy and so do I. She’s a functioning alcoholic and I know many of those.” Anita laughs. “Not myself, of course, but I’m not averse to a glass or two.”
The characters in the play aren’t specifically based on anyone Brand knows but she explains: “What I have done is borrowed from my own experiences, from young women that I know; my friends and how they relate to their mothers; older women I know and things I’ve read. It’s a melting pot of experiences both personal and vicarious; research and just listening to people; watching telly – all kinds of things.”
She and Dobson worked together in 2009 in a sketch on Brand’s ITV2 comedy show. They love collaborating on a female-centric show, although Dobson is keen to point out: “Women are great together but that doesn’t mean we don’t want men around or for them to give their input. We do. I go home and Brian is always giving me ideas about the work. He wants to be involved.”
Brand adds: “I started in sketch comedy, which I always found very collaborative. That isn’t to say I haven’t worked in more masculine-dominated environments or been aware that I’m the only woman in the room, but that is changing. All anyone is asking for is 50/50.” She grins. “It’s not like the obliteration of men.”
Dobson agrees: “It’s not about ganging up on men. With men who are afraid and fearful, maybe there’s something about what they do or what they are that’s being threatened and they have to look at that.
But although it might sound like we’re starting a war, we’re not. All we’re saying is ‘We’re here and we want to be a part of things in the same way because we can contribute hugely’.”
3Women is at London’s Trafalgar Studios from May 15 to June 9; 3womentheplay.co.uk