Review: 5 Lesbians Eating a Quiche

Credits: Corpus Playroom

Credits: Corpus Playroom

CW: war/death/suicide mentions, biological essentialism

When I say I love the 1950s, I don’t mean it like it sounds. I love the 1950s as setting. It’s a fascinating era in which to locate media. Within it, the white-picket aesthetic of the American Dream seems in itself farcical when encompassed by the overarching racism, sexism and homophobia present in its historical narrative – not to mention the cultural hangover of the atom bomb. I’m especially interested in how 1950s settings are used as subversion of narrative and/or a basis in which to situate dark humour.  Five Lesbians Eating a Quiche does both. Set on the day of the Susan B. Anthony Society for the Sisters of Gertrude Stein’s annual quiche breakfast, things quickly descend into bleak absurdist comedy when an atomic bomb hits and they come to realise the sisterhood are the only ones left standing. Be aware some of the humour is rooted in the biological essentialism of white 1950s gender norms, but it’s approached in such a ridiculous way that it can be considered satirical within the context of the play, which both mercilessly and lovingly mocks lesbian archetypes. (Of course, full #cisclaimer here, in that I don’t think I’m necessarily qualified to pass judgement on this. There’s a joke conflating sex/genitalia = gender.)

I’m currently in the middle of Carol, or The Price of Salt, in preparation for the shortly to be released film; in fact, I was reading it whilst waiting for the show to start. Published in 1952 – four years before Five Lesbians and a Quiche is set – it’s noted as being one of the earliest novels in which the central lesbian couple aren’t consigned to suicide, misery, or some noxious cocktail of both. I can’t help but draw parallels with the novels I have read and the play I saw. I have read The Hours, with its unspoken pained longing; I am reading Carol, with its desperate happy ending; and in watching Five Lesbians Eating a Quiche, I found a play that looks at the cultural narrative of 1950s lesbians and laughs, and laughs hard and lovingly. The audience interaction is endearing, performed so enthusiastically it overcomes the initial awkwardness of the audience. Shout out to Emma Blacklay-Piech’s performance as the bespectacled Dale – maintaining an American accent with that level of tenacity and consistency is difficult. Molly Stacey (Wren) was immediately and intensely captivating with her ditzy enthusiasm and Evie Butcher (Lulie) made for a stern widow-in-charge that was a dedicated caricature without being cruel. Emma Kemsley-Pein’s quiche-eating sequence as British expat-with-a-cat Ginny managed to be prolonged without stretching the humour too thin, as well as her post-quiche seduction by prize pie winner Vern (Amy Malone) who managed Monroe-esque breathy innuendo throughout. And – in my opinion, the greatest test of all – when things went wrong (a picture fell from the wall, quiche on someone’s shoes, a door that swung open at the wrong moment), the cast all reacted in character and in sync, with such energy that I wondered if the errors had been intentional.

It’s niche, sure. But if you like sitting in a darkened room chanting “I AM A LESBIAN” with a bunch of lipsticked women in the wake of the end of the world, Five Lesbians Eating a Quiche might (and should) be something you carve out some time for this week.

Sarah Caulfield, Get Real. contributor

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