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Women to un-Mask their feelings at Oval House


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 towards
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 and dialogue.

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. We
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 women.

"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

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