Liz Clarke’s Cannonballista has been some years in the making, with its current incarnation, involving director and drama therapist Holly Stoppit, having incubated for nine months.
Earthy, bookish Liz introduces us to the alter egos that have helped her through life: the cape wearing Zil, her childhood punchy palindrome, who helped her through her school days; and then Betty Bruiser, the world’s only “One Woman Husband and Wife Team” who is exuberantly clad in Penn O’Garra’s star spangled costumes. She is a ”strange thing in a hard blue shell”, who protects (and ultimately prevents) Liz from having to fully face the loss of her oldest sister, Faye.
Bruiser (NASA’s chief costume designer apparently) aims for the escape of a carefree life in the stars whilst Liz longs for earthbound reassurance and the answers to life’s hardest questions about grief.
Humour deftly sidesteps nostalgia, with Sarah Moody’s powerful cello accompaniment halted unceremoniously (“Oh shut up Sarah!”) by a defiant Bruiser, who despite her strong exterior, cannot allow Liz to lament her sister’s death. It draws a hearty laugh from the audience but ultimately deprives us all from exploring the nuanced stages of loss.
In the post show talk, Clarke and Stoppit describe how previous shows included some of the many female workshop participants who bravely shared their stories of grief and hardship; and one cannot help feel that this “Everyman” narrative might still benefit from their inclusion (perhaps, emulating Bruiser’s more intimate on-screen moments).
Audience members reflected that the content “comforted and reassured” and that “we all have a Betty that hides what is within us”.
When Bruiser fails to launch herself to freedom, Liz is ironically freed. The alter egos combine into a whole that is greater than the sum of its parts, becoming a person, much like those that Clarke has encountered in her fifteen years of working with women, with untold bravery, determination and courage.
This was a brave and endearing performance, with a hearty message, that could have been delivered with more explosive technicality.
Cannonballista written and performed by Liz Clarke, director Holly Stoppit, lighting Chris Illingworth, sound design Sam Halmarack, set design Liz Clarke, film Vivi Stamatatos, costume Penn O’Garra, production manager Casey Howell, producer Ruth Holdsworth.
Review supported by Wales Critics Fund
Liz Clarke talks about Cannonballista: