Preview by Paul Nelson
STARTED originally as PACCA's women's writing group, seven women
have gone on to write and produce a full-length professional play,
Masks, which is to be performed at Oval House from
October 1 to October 18. The production has been overseen by the
playwright, Nina Rapi.
The writing of the play was extraordinary in two respects - it
was written by seven women in London parks, their homes and local
nurseries with up to 12 under-fives children present (two of them
born during the writing of the play), and it was done collaboratively.
Lambeth women are celebrating after being given the chance to
perform their play at the Oval House Theatre.
The women, whose community association, Patmos Area Conservation
Community Association, was awarded Lottery funding to run a writing
course for local people in 2000, have now been given Arts Council
funding to produce the play at the Oval.
Masks is a dark comedy written by the women in Myatt's
Fields and Kennington parks, their homes and local nurseries -
usually with up to twelve young children thundering around them.
It tells the story of five women who are locked in the Museum
of Childhood overnight and weaves together the themes of motherhood,
infertility, magic rituals and drug culture in a sassy, funny
play. The women wrote the play together, and each person contributed
the creation of themes, characters, plots and dialogue.
PACCA is a community association that represents around 400 homes
on a South London housing estate. Not only the Arts Council, but
also Neighbourhood Renewal Community Chest, Local Network Fund,
Lambeth Neighbourhood Renewal Fund and Lambeth Small Grants Fund
have funded the performance of Masks.
Each of the seven women from the group contributed towards the
creation of themes, characters, plots and dialogue for Masks.
Individuals would write a scene at home and then bring it to the
group for editing, or scenes were written and edited together.
Due to the lack of accessible and permanent meeting places with
childcare locally, the group ended up meeting with their children
in any place it could find - including their own homes, the park
and a local nursery.
All work usually took place with the children present and the
woman would change nappies, pacify crying children and hand out
food while discussing the finer points of character development
Inevitably, a major theme that emerged was motherhood - the desire
to have children, the problems with having them and its joys.
Further hurdles were overcome when two of the group had new babies
during the writing of the play, one woman developed a life-threatening
illness and another lost her home when it was destroyed by fire.
The women were encouraged, guided and overseen by the playwright
and dramaturg, Nina Rapi. Her fees were paid by a grant from the
Millennium Lottery fund. The Lottery has stepped forward again
and is the major funder for the production of the play.
All members of the group contribute towards the production, with
the women acting as producers, directors, actors, administrators,
set, and costume makers.
Victoria Sherwin, a member of the group, says: "Being part
of this group has been amazing for all of us. We started our own
writing group because there was nowhere to study in this area.
needed something local because we couldn't travel any distance
with young children.
"It has given real meaning to our lives to write such a
good and funny play that will really strike a chord with many
"A major theme is women in relation to motherhood whether
it is as mothers or daughters or indeed as infertile women who
will risk everything to have a baby."
Masks. A play by many hands. Presented at Oval House (Upstairs),
52-54 Kennington Oval, London, SE11. October 1 to 18 Wednesdays
to Saturdays at 8pm. Tickets 020 7582 7680
Transport: Oval Tube (one-minute walk Northern Line)
Access: Induction Loop, Upstairs Theatre is not wheelchair accessible
Car park for disabled visitors, on-street parking nearby
Café: Open theatre nights for wines, beers and meals