ES & FLO – REVIEW – KILN THEATRE

Queer relationships – especially female ones – are not portrayed on stage nearly as often as they should be, and usually when we see these portrayed in media, they feature an element of trauma or tragedy, and it’s even rarer to see an older couple depicted. Although here, the main plot point is heartbreaking, it’s also a genuine issue which real couples may face.

Jennifer Lunn’s play centres around Es & Flo, a couple who first met as activists in the 80s, they have lived together ever since, but have hidden their love from those around them. The script honestly explores the complexities of a queer relationship, of being unmarried and the rights you have and do not, of watching someone you love slip away slowly to dementia, of caring for someone you love – and when help is needed with this.

Libby Watson has tricks up her sleeve in the production’s staging; at first, it appears as just one storey, a living room and kitchen, clearly well lived in and well-loved, featuring dated furnishings and mementos of a life lived together, with pictures on the wall and travel guides on the bookshelf, the set adds authenticity to the couple. Video projections are also incorporated into the staging, these are mostly photos of Es & Flo when they were younger at Greenham Common Women’s Peace Camp, these images are projected above the set, although I don’t feel these are entirely necessary to the storytelling. The section above the living room set is also further utilised later in the production.

The character work here is exceptional, in a relatively short amount of time, five distinct, unique, and genuine characters are established – a host of strong women. Liz Crowther plays the likeable Es, a woman slowly showing signs of dementia. She plays this very well, even at times displaying the vagueness in the eyes of a person with dementia. Doreene Blackstock plays Flo, a complex character, although she worries for Es, she must also worry for herself due to the power imbalance within the relationship; as everything is in Es’ name, she may lose her home if something happens to Es. Blackstock is brilliant in the role, showing the nuances of the character expertly, and her reactions to Catherine (Michelle McTernan) bring humour to the play. McTernan is excellent at making Catherine instantly unlikeable, delivering lines matter-of-factly, showing Catherine doesn’t fully understand the weight of the words she utters.

Susie McKenna’s production has a sitcom feel at times, scenes are lengthy, but captive attention throughout, and the play never drags. The play does jump straight into the storyline with no context or background given at the beginning, instead, this information is peppered throughout the script, meaning you must dive in headfirst and catch up later. At times the performances did show anticipation for the subsequent line of the script, for example during a moment where Es storms upstairs she pauses at the bottom, knowing Flo’s line is coming. There are also times when responses are slightly rushed, as not enough time is left for one person to finish their sentence before the next jumps in – although this is a minor gripe, it did cause an unnatural feel to a couple of the conversations.

It is obvious that this show is made by women, with an all-female cast, and just two men on the creative team, it means everything about this production feels realistic, the characters resemble real people, and the words they speak have an authentic air to them. Es & Flo’s relationship feels genuine throughout, and the performances ensure the love between the two is clear to see. Despite the storyline being emotional, and at times gut-wrenching, there’s light here, and at the end, you’re left feeling an overall sense of hope. A truly beautiful play, which provides much needed lesbian representation.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Es & Flo is on at the Kiln Theatre until the 24th of June – find out more here!

{🎟 AD – PR invite – Tickets were gifted in exchange for an honest review}

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