Weird Sisters was founded in 2014 in Guildford by three experienced female practitioners: Tanya Chainey, Stephanie Goodfellow and Alison Nicol, with the aim of producing work that takes risks, asks difficult questions, and provides strong and interesting roles for women. Their first production of Fewer Emergencies by Martin Crimp found high praise, and this play looks to continue the trend.
Although it’s a fairly common story in fiction, it seems likely that it was never huge numbers of unmarried women who found themselves locked away in asylums because they had become pregnant outside of marriage in the early years of the 1900s, it was more likely that they would end up at the work house, or at a refuge centre where their child would be forcibly adopted*. However, even one case is too many.
Weird Sisters’ new show, Charlotte Jones’ 1997 debut play Airswimming, covers this story and is at Bread and Roses this week before going to the Edinburgh Festival, then back home to Guildford. In 1924, Persephone Baker is planning her coming-out ball at the Dorchester when she finds herself abandoned at St Dymphna’s Hospital for the Criminally Insane, with only “unhinged, cigar smoking, monomaniac transsexual” Dora Kitson for company.
Forgotten for fifty years, they create alter egos who exist in a surreal fantasy world enlivened by Doris Day, two thousand Bolshevik women, a Moulinex hand whisk and airswimming.
The show was rated 5 stars on Broadway Baby and Highly recommended from its run at the Brighton Fringe. Airswimming plays at the Bread & Roses Pub Theatre, 68 Clapham Manor St, London from 21 to 25 June at 8pm.
Book tickets on the Bread and Roses website
*’The Mental Deficiency Act, 1913, allowed local authorities to certify and institutionalise, generally unmarried, pregnant women who were deemed ‘defective’ … The numbers are unknown and probably few, but some sad victims were discovered in mental hospitals as late as 1971, having been there since the 1920s.’ (Sinners? Scroungers? Saints? Unmarried Motherhood in Twentieth-Century England by Pat Thane and Tanya Evans. OUP 2012)