Fiona Mongillo and Lucy Jane Atkinson
Looking Ahead Into 2023
L: Fiona Mongillo (Ann Baggley) R: Lucy Jane Atkinson
When you miss a live theatre production and begin kicking yourself because you heard it was good, you wonder if there will be that minute infinitesimal opportunity of a chance to see it again.
Thank you to the theatre gods for aligning the stars, to Crow’s Theatre, to Fiona Mongillo and Lucy Jane Atkinson, for bringing Dennis Kelly’s ‘Girls & Boys’ to Toronto. I missed it at Stratford’s Here for Now Company last summer. Mongillo returns to the solo role in which she appeared last summer with the production directed once again by Atkinson.
Artistic Director Mongillo founded Here for Now in 2012. According to its website, the independent professional theatre company based in Stratford, Ontario: “aims to challenge and inspire its audiences by producing a bold annual theatre season, comprised of new or underproduced plays. Here For Now focuses on the stories of women and also seeks to amplify all unheard voices.”
Recently I had the chance to interview both Fiona and Lucy in a Zoom call and really enjoyed speaking with them. They have known each other for a decade. Fiona calls Lucy her favourite director on the whole planet. They had just completed a rehearsal for ‘Girls & Boys’ and were tired but invigorated. Atkinson is excited to return to the production after six months of being away from it, but she has also said the script is a very heavy and draining piece as there are more layers to uncover.
I’m doing my best not to read any reviews of last summer’s production but the brief plot synopsis still intrigues me. Fiona assured her synopsis of ‘Girls & Boys’ would be “super brief because it is so difficult to talk about this play without spoiling it.” Essentially, it is a woman who shares her life story with the audience about her relationship with her husband, her children, her career and how the events that have occurred in recent years and the turn these events took.
What drew the two ladies to ‘Girls & Boys’?
For Lucy, she saw the production when she was working at London England’s Royal Court Theatre Box Office a few years ago. She has loved Dennis Kelly’s work for years and the production featured Carey Mulligan and was directed by Lyndsey Turner.
Lucy remembers it was about mid-point in the show she saw at the Royal Court and describes the moment as “all of the air left my body. It just hit me in a way that I can’t remember another time that I’ve had that physical response to a piece of theatre.”
Atkinson calls herself predominately a new writing director. A lot of the work she does is female-focused with small casts that specialize in monologues normally up to three-four people at a perch. Everything she does is very intense and close and ‘Girls & Boys’ is all these things as it fits everything she has wanted to do with the script. For the past five years, Lucy has been waiting for someone to allow her to direct ‘Girls & Boys’. She sent Fiona the script along with several other titles with the caveat being Kelly’s story.
In Fiona’s own words, the initial reading of ‘Girls & Boys’ scared the shit out of her and she said no to it, absolutely not. She closed the script and thought she might not be up to it or perhaps Here for Now audiences might not be up for Kelly’s story either. But she couldn’t stop thinking about it for a couple of days. She read the script again and then read it aloud to her husband. She told him: “I should probably do this play.” And he said: “Yep. 100%”
She added further:
“It’s a really brilliant piece of writing. The only reason I was initially hesitant and balking at it was if audiences would be up to the intensity of the story or maybe I wouldn’t be up to it. That’s not a really good reason to say no to something because that’s really fear. So I said yes.”
Since the show concluded its summer 2022 Stratford run six months ago, has Atkinson’s vision for Kelly’s script been transformed?
Lucy found it a good question. She thought for a moment:
“The interesting thing – when we rehearsed it last summer and I directed it then, so much of what we were doing was world-building for Fiona. It is just her on the stage talking to the audience and making eye contact with them as everything had to feel so truthful and so embodied.”
For the two of them, the real mission of the show is honesty and being as truthful as you can possibly be.
A great deal of time was spent building the house so Fiona could walk around it in the scene and know where everything was. There was the building of an intricate timeline and printing out of photos of everywhere where she lived. There was also printing out photos of her kids. This was all done so it would appear real in Fiona’s memory.
This time in preparation for the Crow’s run, both ladies concur:
“We don’t need to do that quite so much because it’s all there already. What we’re really looking at is just deepening from what we had before. Last summer if we found the top three layers, then we’re now looking for that fourth, fifth and sixth layer and trying to get into the guts of it. This is my mission this time around is to go to these next layers.”
What do the ladies hope audiences will come away with after seeing ‘Girls & Boys’?
For Lucy, it’s a very provocative play and she hopes to provoke people to think about power dynamics between the sexes and within relationships. ‘Girls & Boys’ is a piece that sets out to poke at sore spots, and she hopes audiences are receptive to that and don’t flinch when they are poked and instead stay engaged when they go home and really think about what has just transpired on the stage:
“It’s a delicate balance. When I saw it at Royal Court just after the curtain call and the audience was filing out, there was a fistfight between two men. It was insane and crazy as it became obvious to me people were triggered by it. On the train ride back home, my partner and I had an argument about the play as well. This was one of the only arguments we ever had.”
Lucy hopes audiences don’t shy away from these reactions and will take the time to look at them in the same way Fiona did when she read the script and took the time to consider, re-evaluate and explore why she was fearful. I hope the audiences trust us enough. This is not to say that ‘Girls & Boys’ is traumatizing. There are some moments that are quite hilarious.
For Fiona, what theatre brilliantly does is hold up a mirror so we can take a look at ourselves. In that reflection of showing the entire spectrum of the light and the dark, ‘Girls & Boys’ is meant to impact us, teach us, shine a light on within us and create room for reflection and growth. ‘Girls & Boys’ achieved these goals in the summer run. Although she did have that initial fear an audience might not be ready for the play, Fiona thinks she underestimated the Here for Now audiences last summer.
“We don’t always need to go to the theatre to be entertained or feel comfortable. Sometimes we go to the theatre to have catharsis, to be uncomfortable in order to sit in discomfort. That is an equally important experience ‘Girls & Boys’ provides, and that’s what I hope audiences will experience.
What’s next for Fiona and Lucy once ‘Girls & Boys’ concludes its run at Crow's?
As Artistic Director of Here for Now, Fiona says she will be on a very high workload since two months have been taken away. There will be grants to write and details to hammer down since the Here for Now 2023 season will be outdoors. The season will be launched March 1 at the Box Office. For Lucy, she has a show of hers that has been touring for the past year that has come to London, England so she will be doing a remount of it. She is also directing some shows for drama schools. There is a musical she has been working on for the past five years and a fifth draft has been finished so there will be some revisions and deletions on that. As a freelancer, Lucy says there are always little bits and pieces of things to continue examining.
‘Girls & Boys’ opens January 26 and runs to February 12 in the Studio Theatre at Crow’s Theatre, 345 Carlaw Avenue, Toronto. For tickets visit crowstheatre.com or call the Box Office at 1-647-341-7390 ex 1010.
To learn more about Here for Now and its 2023 summer festival, visit www.herefornowtheatre.com.