With The Secret Society of Leading Ladies, Barn Theatre bring us a delightful celebration of all the different archetypes of the female musical character. It is a hilariously meta depiction of theatre, where you can enjoy all leading ladies rather than purely focusing on one. For those who are missing their theatre fix, this play is an opportunity to reminisce on your favourite female characters – ranging from Mean Girls’ Regina George, to Shrek’s Fiona.
The format gives you the ability to select the characters that you are interested in, with over 150 combinations. It’s a game-like ‘choose your player’ option that is beautifully interactive. But don’t worry, you will get to see all 14 characters in an ensemble piece at the end! A variety of genres, you can choose what you know; what you don’t know, or characters that pique your interest.
This production pushes the idea that leading ladies can be in the same space; that they are all fierce in their own way. In showing such a range of characters, it is evident that they are all different, unique, and have a story to tell. The actresses shine in different ways, and I did enjoy the comedic interaction between the characters, showing a self-aware performance. The writing definitely took the conversations between the characters, as an opportunity to note their differences.
The invitation, code, and selection does remind me of being in a secret, prohibition-style bar. By giving audiences the agency to choose their preferred characters, viewers feel special. It is their own experience, especially with the mystery of who invited the characters and who organised this gathering. Subtle breaks of the fourth wall, and characters at their rawest, initially believing they are unobserved, make for some of the most compelling moments of the play.
What this format misses perhaps is more development of individual characters. However, since we have met these leading ladies in the past, it feels like you are being reintroduced to old friends. In the short time they have, the performers quickly demonstrate the defining features of their characters.
I loved it. It would be hard to pick a favourite combination, as all the characters were diverting, engaging and funny. Every combination also provides a beautiful ballad, as well as powerful and bright performances, and I enjoyed the changes in tone. If you’re looking for a way to be reminded of your favourite characters, check in with them at this production! It is a unique way to experience theatre, with a flexibility to watch the show as often as you wish. Ryan Carter has struck gold with this performance. All that’s left to say is… encore?
Words by Annie Gray
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Image: Barn Theatre