Lady in the Sheets is honestly nothing like anything I’ve seen before. And I can say this, for certain, with my hand on my heart, just as the play’s women wear their hearts on their sleeves. In a potent clash of cultures, generations and sexuality, Lady in the Sheets bewilders, discomforts and surprises its audience. This hour-long drama has to be seen to be believed and you will certainly not experience a moment’s boredom during such an eclectic performance.
The set and costume designer, Alice Camilleri Burke, creates an intimate environment which becomes essential for the confessions of the four women to follow; half of the audience are on pillows and cushions at the front so that we too feel on a level with the women. Each flat contains a central object or set of objects which pertain to the character and personality of the individual (or individuals) residing within it.
The first half of the play essentially comprises of the build-up to Flora’s story which triggers all four women to share their experiences of denegation and abuse at the hands of men. On entering the theatre, the women immediately begin to chat and interact with audience members so you are disorientated from its start as we are not properly introduced to any of the play’s characters. Esme Sanders plays Flora, the carer to the eighty-five year old Auntie-ji (Charithra Chandan). Esme Sanders’s portrayal of Flora is a wonderful depiction of a young women exploring the world around her and her sexuality for the first time, she charms the audience and it is her story which feels the most genuine. Charithra Chandan too is excellent and could be said to be the play’s only truly comic actress.
Though much of Lady in The Sheets is uncomfortable to watch because of its serious themes, further discomfort is generated by its ostensible comedy, which leaves the actors begging for laughs from the audience. Taiwo Oyebola, a mother of a baby who won’t let us forget it, seems to have swallowed her lines without totally grasping their meaning. In many ways it is the acting which lets down the play, particularly in its first-half, as the women attempt to engage with one another, peeking through window-panes, it becomes comic for all the wrong reasons. Simultaneously, it is hard to understand the connections between these women, and often the narrative seems to disintegrate as it feels like they’re all yelling to tell their own story without caring for anyone else’s.
‘Boys’ by Charlie XCX becomes the play’s haunting soundtrack where the conversation and confessions from the women totally subvert the chorus – “I was busy thinking about boys.” Though, yes, these women are ‘busy thinking about boys’, they are drawing upon their experiences of sexual assault, physical intimidation and even rape. The parallel drawn between this song and the stories of the women makes for a chilling comparison as anyone could be listening to this song and not thinking about what it might mean to someone else. For me, it is the echoing lyrics of Charlie XCX which truly define this play as piece of tragi-comedy and in many ways might constitute its saving grace. By forcing the audience to actually see the lasting impact of the ‘boys’ on these women, we realise that male abuse is facilitated by cultural tropes and narratives we tell ourselves about girls crushing on boys.
It’s hard to know what exactly to credit this play with. I can’t deny it was powerful and horrible and thought-provoking. When I’m judging literature I give it 10 points if it makes me feel something, under that criteria I would have to give this play an 11 even if I remain ambivalent to the success of much of its delivery. Lady in The Sheets should leave the laughs at the door and stick to what it does best; offering us thee comforter for a moment only to tear it away again.