All female theatre Company, Sixteen Sixty, have a brand new show coming up at the Bread & Roses Theatre from 22nd November. In Bad Taste is a horror-comedy involving gallons of fake blood and a distinct lack of fourth wall. Written with the current political climate biting at our heels, it follows a group of five best friends as their moral compasses are pushed to breaking point (and then to cannibalism) by the top 1%, homophobes, misogynists and people with skewed opinions on what it means to be a woman. It’s a testament to the strength of female bonds and quickly spirals into a piece of unbridled feminist rage. We caught up with the company to talk about their work and how they created the piece…
Tell us about Sixteen Sixty, how did you start?
Sixteen Sixty Theatre is a company made of up six women from across the UK & Ireland. In our final year of university, the six of us had a conversation over a Nandos, discussing the type of theatre we wanted to make. We took a few months to get ourselves on the right path, but it finally fell together when we settled on our name. Sixteen Sixty was the year that women were legally permitted to act, big up Charlie 2nd and Margaret Hughes.
Our work is driven by many things, but mainly our real life experiences as predominantly queer, working class women and what we see in the media.
As an all female company, what challenges do you think women in the arts face? How are you tackling these?
There have been plenty of challenges being an all female theatre company. The industry, as a whole, is rife with misogyny and for us that’s come in many different forms. The biggest challenges we’ve faced personally have been that it’s been harder for people to take us as seriously as they would a company of young men. Women’s voices are much less heard within theatre than their male counterparts, so for us, we’ve felt a real responsibility to make sure that we speak up and be nothing but professional. It does mean that we feel like we’re constantly on the ball, switched on and can’t afford to let the mask slip but we’re tackling that by actively seeking out ways to take up space and elevate other female voices.
We do think that women in the arts do often feel like they need to soften the points they wish to make and censor their words. We’ve felt it too, especially given the nature of In Bad Taste, but have to remind ourselves why we do what we do and about all the outspoken women before us that makes what we do so powerful. We’re open and honest and don’t hold back with our thoughts and feelings and encourage others to be just the same. What fun is a boat that hasn’t been shaken up just a little?
As a company, you’re passionate about equality – how does this come through in your creative work?
We’re from all over the place and come from such a different range of upbringings that our work has always been a sort of amalgamation of that. We’ve all had different opportunities (or lack thereof) and have been able to see first hand how it’s affected us as individual creatives and then as a company. We always knew that we wanted to speak out about injustice of all kinds so with In Bad Taste (and other writing going on behind the scenes) we’ve talked loudly about so many issues in the hope that the audiences can take note and carry that on to their own lives. Homophobia, the gender pay gap, sexual assault and sexism are at the forefront of IBT but we have no intentions of stopping the equality discussion with just our first show!
We’ve also been mindful from the start to offer up opportunities to people who wouldn’t always have had the chance with other professional companies or venues, for example we’ve always tried to seek out underrepresented people for the likes of our tech team and any other creatives that we work with.
We’d love to know more about your latest show, In Bad Taste. Can you tell us more about it? Of course! In Bad Taste is a horror-comedy, that involves gallons of fake blood and a wavering fourth wall. Written and with the current political climate biting at our heels, it follows a group of five best friends as their moral compasses are pushed to breaking point (and then to cannibalism) by many things. The top 1%, homophobes, misogynists, people with skewed opinions on what it means to be a woman, these are just a few of the things that send these women off the deep end. At it’s heart, It’s a testament to how unbreakable female bonds can be, which quickly spiralled into a piece of unbridled feminist rage as large parts of our own lives were thrown into the mixture.
This play is nothing like what anyone thought we were going to do. A lot of people are firstly shocked about its theme and then about how funny it is and how funny we are. There’s something brilliant about seeing the shock on peoples faces, and the joy, after seeing the show.
IBT is a reflection of the general mood of a generation and we hope to inspire change in those who watch. Aside from being extremely political and a little bit dark at times, it doesn’t take itself seriously and holds laughter at the forefront.
It sounds like quite an experimental piece which mixes genres – how did you approach this? With some difficulty, we’ll be honest. The story is indeed told through many different and unexpected mediums including narration, poetry, movement and rap. Improvisation also plays a key part and each performance is different from the last. This was to reflect the women’s changing mental states and to keep the audience just as on edge as they themselves are.
We want to show that we are actors, that we’re professional people who’ve done the sonnets and the soliloquies, but as the writing went on and developed, we realised that we could do so much more and so could the play.
To be honest, it was built on a lot of laughter between us as friends and as people who carried their own experiences into the rehearsal room with us.
How did you find the play/ meet Daisy Kelly?
Hello, Daisy speaking! I’m a member of the company myself. We started this together and they’re never getting rid of me.
I started writing the play in the summer of 2019 just as a creative outlet based on a few of us yelling about eating the rich on a particularly hazy night on Wetherspoons (all of these chains should be sponsoring us, really, don’t you think?). I didn’t think much about it until we began seeing opportunities to perform and I offered up my first draft of the play to the rest of the company and from there, the rest is history.
What was the writing process like? Did you collaborate with with the writer throughout the rehearsal process?
There has never been a more caffeinated person than Daisy when writing this show, let’s put that out there first. It was a lot of hm-ing and ha-ing and deleting pages and pages, only to realise that was a terrible idea and then thank the heavens for the undo button. Much of the company’s own personal stories and experiences were fed into the script, making it feel a little closer to home. Also there’s a lot of pop culture references and silly dad jokes.
As rehearsals went on, the script made many changes based on what was said as a joke in the rehearsal room but that actually suited the character, scene and script a lot more. And that’s how it’s been since the first run. Every time another run of IBT comes around, the script is looked over and picked apart, adding in new nuances, jokes and real thoughts of the team. It’s great fun!
Do you have any advice for female creatives wanting to start a company? I would say don’t take no for an answer, keep going and don’t lose sight of your passion. Remember to have fun and learn everything- writing, producing, stage management etc. Network and support other companies and creatives and involve yourself in the theatre community.
Be bold in knowing what you want, what you stand for and the work you want to create. There is so much space for all of us and you don’t have to stick to one narrative. ‘Pretty’ is the least interesting thing about you. And stop apologising. It’s in more than just you verbally saying ‘sorry’. Stop apologising with your voice, your body, your words — stop it! You’ll thank us later.
Don’t be afraid to break away from what other people think you should be doing. If there aren’t any roles that you feel show your voice, or the things you want to stand for – make them.