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  • Flora Gosling

Review: Take It Away, Cheryl (Greenside @ Infirmary Street)

Updated: Jul 29, 2023

Ancestral spirits are summoned to save women from the burden of saving men

The “hooker with a heart of gold” trope has been around for centuries. She is there to offer sage advice, become the object of the main character’s affections, and have a fifty-fifty chance of being killed off for plot development. But what if she actually has some feelings of her own? Or can’t save the main character from his self-destructive habits? Take It Away, Cheryl, written and starring Kait Warner, takes this trope character, sanitizes it slightly, and asks what it says about gender roles in the real world. Cheryl runs a Carnival kissing booth that has long since stopped offering kisses and instead offers lonely men a compassionate ear and a shoulder to cry on. If you think that sounds farfetched, you will be in for a bumpy ride when the demonic possessions begin.

But as kooky as the world that Warner has created sounds, it fits its own internal logic, and more importantly acts as a vehicle for the larger message. Its themes of female empowerment sneak up on you. Part of the reason for that is that the aggressive and entitled demands of Cheryl’s clients seem so horribly true to life, but partly it is because we as audiences are not used to seeing the archetype character of the kind, caring love-interest-of-a-complicated-man challenged. It’s not just as a character type that Take It Away, Cheryl is questioning, but also the expectation placed on women in general to always be good: good enough to save the men around them even if it means sacrificing themselves. At the same time, it is not insensitive to men’s mental health: the very existence of the kissing booth is to draw attention to the lack of spaces where men can express their emotions. But this is a play about the toxic repercussions of that problem, where the line between being listened to and being loved becomes dangerously blurred.

Warner, dressed like a buttercup with an expression of gentle patience fixed on her face, is great as Cheryl. She is kind but not weak, and her growth over the course of the performance is revitalising. She also plays the ancestors and dying men that come to possess Cheryl’s body, and though she hasn’t quite perfected the sharpness in characterisations needed for the scene she still gives an entertaining performance the whole way through. And in any case, it is an improvement on the other ways in which people communicate with Cheryl’s character; through the excessive voice-over. At first, keeping Cheryl’s clients faceless works in the performance’s favour, but after a while it feels like a three-hander trapped in a solo performance’s body. Even so, that doesn’t stop Take It Away, Cheryl from being an hour of spooky, character-driven fun. It takes so many unexpected twists and turns that it makes for a surprisingly unique solo performance, without breaking the mould so much that it becomes experimental or alienating. But best of all, it has writing that ignites the feminist in you. Four stars.

Whispers from the Crowd: "I found it really charming. I couldn't figure out where it was going, it was a really creative way to portray that message." "The flipping characters was a bit aggressive." "It was really quirky and imaginative"

Take It Away, Cheryl will run at Greenside @ Infirmary Street in the Mint Studio until August 13


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