Presented by Hidden Gems Productions and showing as part of the West Yorkshire Playhouse's A Play, A Pie & A Pint series, Bag Lady is a bold and insightful monologue by Marcia Layne that benefits from a multi-layered and memorable performance from Flo Wilson.
Surrounded by boxes and old clothes that are the sum total of her difficult life, Wilson's Eve (or Evelyn) vents her frustration, anger and sadness about her own situation, as well as that of her family and society in general. Along the way, the piece touches on many sensitive areas, including mental health, racial discrimination and cultural identity.
There are also flashes of humour as Eve darts from subject to subject, the fragments building up a vivid picture of her life and the events that have led her to the street. From her marriage breakdown to the toy car she can't bear to part with and the importance of finding the right hairstyle, Eve covers much ground as she vents to passers-by and anyone else who will listen about her struggle to survive.
It must be noted that while the concept of the Play, Pie, Pint is admirable (for the modest ticket price, the audience gets the pie and pint thrown in), staging the performance in the noisy Playhouse bar does detract somewhat from its power, not least by making some of the dialogue hard to hear. However, this takes nothing away from Wilson's strong and committed performance. Nor does it diminish the quality of the material she brings to life.
Any play that discusses mental health in such an authentic way deserves much praise, and one of Bag Lady's main strengths is that Eve is not a character for whom the audience is expected to feel pity. She is a true survivor and that comes across strongly throughout.
Overall, Bag Lady provides an hour's worth of powerful and thought-provoking drama worthy of a wider audience and maybe even a place on one of the Playhouse's main stages.
- Hannah Giles