Airswimming by Charlotte Jones
Directed by Harry Harding
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Charlotte Jones is a highly successful British playwright whose six stage plays have been performed at the National Theatre, the Donmar, the Almeida, in the West End and all over the world. She has also written extensively for TV, radio and film.
ABOUT THE PLAY
Set in 1920’s England, Airswimming is based on the true story of two women (Miss Kitson and Miss Baker), who have been incarcerated in a hospital for the “criminally insane” for having borne illegitimate children. Forgotten by their families and not released until the 1970’s, DORA and PERSEPHONE adopt alter-egos, DORPH and PORPH, to enact their fantasies and survive the silence of incarceration. By turns very funny and moving, Airswimming reminds us of the forgotten women of these generations in both Britain and Ireland.
Neither is sure why they are there, but as the years and the decades roll by and they become institutionalised you begin to realise that if they weren’t mad when they went in, they certainly are when they get out.
We know these two women were locked away in the early 1920s but Airswimming plays with linear narrative as the story of DORA and PERSEPHONE is told both forwards and backwards. It difficult to get a grasp on time as, like the characters themselves, you struggle to decipher what the year is and how long these poor women have been incarcerated. Initially polar opposites of one another, they grow fiercely dependant on each other and develop an unhealthy relationship as they disappear into their imaginations to escape the horrifying facts of their reality.
Spanning approximately six decades, Jones’s depiction of these two characters’ descent into madness is as funny as it is chilling.
‘The structure and writing – admirably clear and unsentimental – both trip the light fantastic too, effortlessly gliding from the desperately funny to the desperately sad.’ – The Guardian.
NOTES FROM CHARLOTTE JONES
“Airswimming is a comedy about despair. It was inspired by the various true stories of women who were placed in the mental institutions in the 1920s because they had given birth to illegitimate children, or for other spurious reasons such as they were deaf, lesbian or merely “atypical”. Some of these women were not released until the 1970s when a lot of the Victorian mental institutions closed down as the great age of pharmacology had dawned. It is a meditation on stasis, on being stuck in a hopeless situation and the salvation that is to be found only in friendship.
The dance and song elements are crucial to the sense of joy that the play can bring in performance. DORA and PERSEPHONE find each other and remain essentially free even though they are incarcerated because of the pleasure and solace they find in each other’s company. DORA and PERSEPHONE manage to save each other and transform into their alter egos DORPH and PORPH in order to survive”
This will be a dark, bleak production with a minimalist set consisting mainly of a tin bath filled with water, a rusty staircase, and a box full of props and wigs. My aim is to make the studio feel like it is the inside of an asylum, as if the audience are visitors who have been allowed exclusive access – this will hopefully make them uncomfortable as they are forced to witness DORA and PERSEPHONE’s descent into madness up-close-and-personal.
2f or 4f
PERSEPHONE / PORPH – female, lighter in tone, comical.
DORA / DORPH – female, darker in tone, comical.
A challenging but rewarding project for accomplished female actors. There are options in the playing of the two characters. Both women age by fifty years and are traditionally played by female actors in their 20’s – their age at the beginning of the play as DORA and PERSEPHONE.
However, they could equally be played by female actors in their 60’s/70’s – the age they are as DORPH and PORPH. In fact, I see no reason why they couldn’t be played by female actors of any age, as long as they are the same age.
There is also the option that the cast could expand to four actors; two young and two older, so that there is no doubling/ageing up.
Scripts are available now from the Box Office.
DORA – Scene One, Scene Thirteen
PERSEPHONE – Scene Three, Scene Seven
BOTH – Scene Five, Scene Sixteen
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