Telling stories that reflect the queer, female, experience on stage
BY LUCY KNIGHT
“In a male-dominated culture, there’s this kind of fetishisation of lesbian stories which really bothers me.”
Playwright Tabitha Mortiboy was inspired to write her third full-length play, The Amber Trap, partially due to the lack of representation she sees of female same-sex relationships on stage.
And she’s right: there hasn’t been a “breakthrough” play for queer women, like gay men have Angels In America.
That’s not to say the theatre scene has been completely barren of lesbian activity: The 1934 play The Children’s Hour was a Broadway hit, and more recently, musicals like The Color Purple and Fun Home have brought Sapphic stories onto the stage.
Tabitha says that when she saw Fun Home last year it was the first time she had seen a portrayal of gay women on stage.
“That was really important in forming [The Amber Trap]. I’m excited to have a really lovely and honest and authentic gay couple on stage.”
The play, which opens on 29 April at Theatre503 in London, takes its name from the notion of insects trapped in amber.
When this happens, Tabitha says, “They become a spectacle – something to admire but they’re suffocated and smothered. So [the title] is based on the idea of what a male gaze can do to women – especially to gay women.”
The Amber Trap is set in a corner shop, where three women work together. Two of the employees, Katie and Hope, are a couple, whose little universe is disrupted when the shop’s manager, Jo, hires a male member of staff, Michael.
“It’s kind of an examination of gender and sexual politics, and what happens when this young couple is subjected to this intrusive outside gaze,” explains Tabitha.
This is the first time the 27-yer-old has written a lesbian storyline, after the successes of her first two plays, Billy Through The Window (2015) and Beacons (2016).
“The others were driven by things that really fascinated me,” she says, but describes The Amber Trap as being ‘personally important.’
“The director Hannah and I wanted to do a show that featured two gay characters but that didn’t zone the spotlight onto their gayness, and make it their defining feature. It was important to us to not just make an issue play.
“They’re not a blissfully idealised couple, and they’re also not a couple who are in a really toxic relationship.
“‘Normal’ is the wrong word, but there is a heteronormative trend across our media, and I think it’s important that we put other possibilities on stage.
“Particularly with all of this discussion recently about teaching children about LGBTQI relationships and the furore around that.
“I think things are too dominated by binaries and heteronormative ideas and we need to moving away from that.”
She says the characters in the play have been partially inspired by her own experience as a queer woman.
“I think there’s always an element of yourself or people you’ve encountered in your plays. One of the characters hasn’t come out and her partner has, and there’s a struggle for them to understand each other.
“That’s definitely something that I experienced when I was younger and I was coming out.
“That horrid insipient shame that we’ve absorbed from our surroundings and from the lessons that we learn can teach you to be quite ashamed of yourself.
“It’s so important to let people know that [queerness] is not an unhealthy or an unhappy thing.”
Another character is inspired by Tabitha’s partner. “She’s really proud of her identity and really vocal – I love that.”
The Amber Trap is being produced by Damsel Productions, a company that always works with female-identifying production teams and writers.
“The stories that they present are reflecting female experience,” Tabitha tells me. “It’s amazing because it’s still really unusual to be in a room full of women.”
The Amber Trap shows at Theatre503, London, from 24 April 2019. For tickets click here
Only reading DIVA online? You’re missing out. For more news, reviews and commentary, check out the latest issue. It’s pretty badass, if we do say so ourselves.