London-based theatre company, Dirty Stop-Out is comprised of
writer and producer Rachel Hirons alongside award-winning director
Stef O'Driscoll. The company makes theatre in order to "make the
private public" and explores behaviours and attitudes carried out
in the privacy of "our bedrooms, bathrooms and heads".
Their latest play When Women Wee is set within the female
toilets of a typical nightclub. The play is a voyeuristic comedy in
which the lives of 25 women, played by just five actresses, are
depicted. Within the play we witness a multitude of women at
various stages of love life and intoxication.
Since the play's premiere at last year's Edinburgh Fringe
Festival, where it received critical acclaim amongst audiences and
critics alike, it has recently transferred to Soho Theatre for a
two week run.
We've already reviewed it
here; this week some of the women involved have shared their
thoughts with us about the production.
Playwright Rachel Hirons discusses her inspirations
behind writing the play:
Rachel: I have always been obsessed with women.
I find them fascinating to observe and understand, they are so
complex. The idea for the play was born when someone said to me
"Women don't dress for men, they dress up only in a way to compete
with other women", and I thought, "If that is true then the art of
sisterhood is officially dead, this is a sorry state of affairs",
but while I didn't believe it or want to believe it I couldn't help
but see there was some truth. As a woman I know that there are
constant pressures to look a certain way and sometimes I have felt
that this impossible quest for perfection creates competition
between women (we are all familiar with the 'dirty look', the eyes
that sweep over you from top to bottom and the unimpressed snarl
Now, I am not naïve enough to think that I can write a play and
suddenly all women will feel comfortable in our own skin and begin
celebrating the beauty in others we believe we don't have, but I
did think it would be great to actually show these women, all
women, in their rawest and most honest state - completely unedited.
Their attitudes, anxieties and behaviours, because I am sure that
underneath all the dirty looks and bull shit we are all the same.
And what better place is there to show such a private side to women
when in a toilet? The way they act alone, with their best friends
or, most tellingly, with strangers.
Researching the show was incredible. I would go out to public
toilets and listen to some of the conversations that happened
within them. The material was incredible! Obviously it is such a
private space and so women in there really open up. Conversations
about sex were had most often! Then there was girls crying, on the
phone to their partners, friends arguing, thoughts on anal sex -
the latter conversation is included almost verbatim in the play, it
was pure gold.
My intention was certainly not to change women, but simply
depict them as they are in all their glory for everyone (men and
women) to see.
Audiences laugh so hard throughout, yet nothing is false or
over-exaggerated, it is all real which is what I love about it. It
allows women to laugh at the ridiculousness and familiarity of the
character's behaviour without being preached at. The men's reaction
is either of hysteria or absolute disgust and on many nights the
audience end up laughing and commenting on the reactions from each
other which I love watching. As a writer, to see that affect of the
play is incredible; I couldn't ask for more.
Watching your own behaviour carried out by someone else enables
a whole new perception. I do believe that only when we can see
ourselves with a sense of humour and perspective, can we reclaim
and appreciate ourselves and each other for what we really are.
Although this play is not the solution to women's insecurities
brought about through decades of media crushing, I think it can act
as a form of therapy, a mirror at most. An hour of laughing at the
I think my favourite scene in the play is when we see a woman
out on her hen night, in tears because she has been with the guy
for years and the whole 'marriage thing' isn't what she expected.
The scene focusses on how people feel when they have been in a
relationship for a very long time and the initial surges of lust
have dissipated. While this is normal, you can't help but feel
everyone else's relationship is far more passionate. I think no
matter what we have, women always seem to carry a sense of guilt
that it is not enough or they could be doing more.
The play's director, Stef O'Driscoll gives her
Stef: The play really tackles the attitudes and
anxieties of 21st century women which is truly exaggerated by
constant media reminders that no-one is perfect due to wrong hair
colour, dry skin, unshaven legs… The list is endless and the
perfect body unobtainable.
It is rare that I read something about women that goes any
further than our relationships with men and what we think of sex.
Yes, the play certainly covers these but it really touches on our
relationships with each other and, more importantly, with
ourselves. This makes the play unique for me.
The process of directing the play was really interesting. As I
had 25 characters to direct I had to make sure that each one was
completely different and the story of the character was portrayed.
Some characters appear on the stage just once for less than 3
minutes while some return again and again, so it was quite a
challenge! I worked on each character equally to ensure the cast
could connect with each female portrayed and tell their story not
only through the words but their actions and mannerisms. 3
characters in the play do not speak at all.
With each member of the cast I discussed their view of each
character and how and when they had come across such attitudes
before, whether they be themselves or from another. We really
harboured this to make sure that the script was delivered without
reverting to stereotypes. It had to be personal.
Rather than trying to dissuade the use of products or protest for
a new way of life for women, the play offers a portrayal of how our
beliefs and actions can affect our self worth and also increase
rivalry between women.
There is a sobering scene at the end of the play when Sam breaks
down to her best friend and admits that she has lied to some old
school friends in the club and told them she is a lawyer because
her real life is a 'failure'. When asked why Sam replies 'Look I
know these girls, I've seen them on facebook…all they do is go on
holiday to hot places, get engaged to men with tans and have fun on
nights out, real fun'.
It has been known (even in my own circle of friends) for girls to
touch-up their photographs on photoshop before uploading them to
facebook. Befriending people only as a means to compare ourselves
with not only the Jones's but with their cousins third
But just scratch the surface of these 'fake beauties' and their
catty remarks, and you will find they're just like the rest of us,
with insecurities and emotional needs to be liked and loved. This
is what I love about the play; it shows all women are essentially
the same. The women we see as the 'gorgeous ones' still have the
same insecurities, the older ones have different insecurities but
essentially we are all hoping for the same thing: a good night out.
Only a handful of characters actually achieve this though!
Natasha Sparkes, an actress in When Women Wee, who
featured in The Tapes 2011 and is set to appear in VICTIM out
summer 2012, gives us her views as an actress:
I have found working on this show almost therapeutic. It is
amazing to see how much you have in common with women you don't
Each of my characters I can feel are a part of myself; when I
play the character of Saskia, a member of the main group of girls
we see throughout, I literally feel as though I am on stage being
myself. When the audience burst out laughing at some of the things
she says and does I can't help but think "Oi! This is me you're
laughing at - and I can hear you". Hopefully it's
This play is unlike anything I have done before. Usually you are
cast for a part, you focus on your character and act them out. Not
5 different parts at once, all of which have to be truly believable
and completely different from each other so that the audience can
tell immediately who you are portraying. It is exhausting but
hearing the response from the audience I know that it is worth it
and clearly, women have great stories to tell. It is a pleasure to
be able to tell them in such an honest and raw way!
When Women Wee will run at Soho Theatre May 8-19
Visit the Soho Theatre
Dirty Stop-Out's next play, A Guide to Second Date Sex, will
premiere at the Edinburgh Fringe this August at The Underbelly.