Jonathan Hall reviews There Are No Beginnings, a new play by Charley Miles now playing at the Leeds Playhouse.
There Are No Beginnings
I have vivid memories of that time during the seventies and early eighties when fear of the Yorkshire Ripper coloured people’s lives. I remember my parents worrying about my sister in Newcastle, the free minibuses for women from our student union, the defiant Reclaim the Night marches; for those who lived through them, they were a powerful times sparking powerful debates, times and debates that have been excellently evoked by Charley Miles passionate and thought-provoking new play.
‘There are no beginnings tells the stories of Leeds women living through those times. There’s the Mother, fired and driven by her fears for her daughter, and the fragile young women in the hostel where she works. There’s a sex worker living in dread that’s constant but denied and a policewoman having to fight twice as hard as her male colleagues to be taken seriously. And there’s the student, driven outside of her comfort zone to challenge a status quo where young women alone after dark can be seen as ‘asking for it’. By focussing on the lives of those living in the shadow of events as opposed to being directly connected with them the play is able to tell a story that transcends the well-trodden facts and raises vital questions about women and their place in society both then and now.
At one point in the story a car is driven through the window of a cinema showing some misogynistic slasher movie; it was an action that felt so right yet so futile when set against the light of the lives unfolding during those six dark years.
Miles tells a necessarily big sprawling story, reflecting the myriad people she spoke to during her research for this project and if on occasions argument dominates over storytelling, those arguments are always worth listening to in a world forty years later where violence against women is still an ever-present ugly dynamic. The beautiful writing style that so characterised Miles’s debut play ‘Blackthorn’ adds poetry to the passion; one speech about a Silver Cross pram has stuck in my mind ever since I heard it.
The production is served by an excellent cast directed with insightful energy by Amy Letman. Tessa Parr, Natalie Gavin and Jesse Jones provide a consistent, passionate presence and an emotional beating heart is given to the play by Julie Hesmondhalghas the Centre worker and Mother. Never once does she allow her role slip into cypher; every passionately delivered line feels like something that has just come to mind, every action is characterised a relatable humanity action even during the curtain call when slipping a bathrobe around the shoulders of a character immersed in water.
The simple and exciting space in the newly created Bramall Rock Void serves the play well. It’s a bare stage in a bare space, yet I came away my mind filled with vistas of grimy terraces and foggy parks, bus stops and stacked plastic chairs. At the end of the play I struck up a conversation with a lady who it turned out had been one of those people interviewed by Charley Miles; this lady’s memories had informed parts of the play. She was visibly moved.“It brought it all back to me,” she said. “I had a few emotional moments.
Until 2 November 2019