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The Big O - yes folks, that one!

L-R: Esmee Cook, Jade Dowsett Roberts and Lisa Spencer. Photo by Hannah Kelly.

The Big O, B2 Stage, Belgrade Theatre, Coventry from 4-6 April.

Review Ann Evans

The first thing to say about The Big O written and produced by Midlands-based Kim Cormack is that it’s not what you expect it to be. The Big O – and no, it’s not a tribute to Roy Orbison, even though there was a 60s night on in the Belgrade main stage, (hopefully no one ended up in the wrong auditorium!) because this Big O, is the one us Brits rarely talk about – a taboo topic even in today’s, anything goes society.

The very mention of The Big O seems to instantly evoke giggles and a nudge nudge wink wink kind of response, which I'm sure the writer, the director Lotte Ruth Johnson and cast are well used to - nevertheless nothing could be further from the truth. This isn't a production of innuendos and smutty jokes, it's a serious emotion-packed wealth of real experiences, brimming with intense, hard-hitting storylines throughout. Topics that will undoubtedly evoke some passionate discussions. The fact that the writer and others involved in this play are currently fundraising with the aim of developing The Big O project with educational and community workshops, is interesting and encouraging for those wanting to see social change. Interesting also to learn that they had been working alongside an Artists Wellbeing Practitioner as they rehearsed.

The play itself hinges around Lucy (Jade Dowsett Roberts), a young woman who to begin with seems pretty happy in her relationship with her boyfriend. But through society and the pressures placed on women these days with the need to fit in and be ‘normal’, Lucy becomes totally dissatisfied with her sex life and tries to analyse her past experiences to discover why she cannot experience sexual pleasure as other women seem to.

We then see flashbacks of her life, through her wild university days, partying with her friends, Dee (Lisa Spencer), Harry (Adley Lewis) and Annie (Esmee Cook) who I’m sure won’t object to me saying they played the parts of girls (and boy) who just wanna have fun, to the hilt. The only other male in the production appears on film as Lucy’s personal trainer on her laptop, this being Kevin Mesiti who plays his part well. It’s almost incidental that I mention Lucy’s (Jade Dowsett Roberts) performance – which was excellent, especially considering the emotional and challenging scenes she was faced with. It is however a very high-ceilinged stage where words can sometimes disappear into the ether particularly at crucial moments when a secretive ‘punchline’ is being whispered.

Prior to meeting the fun-time Annie, we see Esmee Cook in a scene as the Sex Educator – with the audience being the students. Not sure if anyone learnt anything they didn’t already know, but it was certainly an eye-opener! In between times we sit in on Lucy’s counselling sessions with Dinah (Anna Bernard) a prim and proper expert in her field whose key phrase ‘and breathe’ was something I found funny.

And that was the thing about this play – different scenes resonated with different people in the audience. There was such a lot rolled into Lucy’s backstory – so many traumas, so many bad experiences, it really wasn’t surprising that she becomes as distraught and distressed as she does. But clearly the writer wanted to cover not just Lucy’s life and experiences but problems and situations that many women encounter.

Jade Dowsett Roberts as Lucy. Photo by Hannah Kelly.

Perhaps the conclusion that her current problems stemmed from earlier traumas, and once she came to terms with them all would be well was a simplistic answer, but really, the audience did want to see Lucy coming through this with hope for her future. So a satisfying conclusion for Lucy on this occasion at least.

At the end of the play, the cast came back on stage for a Q & A session with the audience, and this was very enlightening and interesting. I did think it a pity that more people didn’t stay for this, and although it wouldn’t have been practical, I’d loved to have sat in on this discussion with the cast before we’d seen the play. It would also have been good had the writer Kim been present – but perhaps she was on other nights.

After the Belgrade, The Big O now goes on tour playing the Kings Head Theatre, London, 16 May – 3 June; and Birmingham Midlands Arts Centre, 7 and 8 June.

For more information on The Big O, please visit their website:

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