2022 Nancy Dean Lesbian Playwriting Award-winner, Es & Flo, is a tender and moving portrayal of the powerful bond between two women across the decades. As the play opens, we meet Es on her birthday and discover that her memory isn’t what it used to be. Peppered with details of the couple’s life together, revelations emerge about Es and her family life, along with a reminder that our memories are sometimes shaped by what we chose to forget.
Colored with recollections of the Greenham Common Women’s Peace Camp—where Es and Flo first met as activists in the 1980s—this sharply observed play by Jennifer Lunn celebrates the love of an older lesbian relationship, women coming together to fight for what’s right, and the healing power of chosen family.
It’s refreshing to see a play that centers older queer women, older women at all in fact. Their story is an acknowledgment of the many about Greenham women, particularly the queer women, which were hidden for decades and lost. Women, like Es and Flo, who lived their lives anonymously, their relationships remaining secret, unacknowledged by the outside world. As we witness Es’ memory deteriorate, it feels like a metaphor for all those memories and stories about other women that were lost along the way.
It’s a credit to these captivating characters and the fantastic performances, that I was left wanting to know even more about these women’s backgrounds, to hear more stories from their shared past, and learn more about Greenham life. Liz Crowther as Es and Doreene Blackstock as Flo are truly the heart of the piece and give engaging, heartfelt, and insightful performances. The chemistry between them feels authentic and the love that the characters have for one another radiates from the stage. Adrianna Pavlovska is also endearing and funny as Beata, the carer sent to look after Flo. Often the bearer of bad news as Beata, Pavlovska brings real warmth to a role. Alongside this trio is Catherine, who is initially positioned as the piece’s villain, with Michelle McTernan delivering an understated yet potent performance.
Lunn’s focus on this powerful quartet of women (accompanied Beata’s daughter Kasia, alternately played by Reesie Dupe and Mirella Siciliano) feels refreshing too, while the impact of the male characters is felt, but never seen. This leaves the women to tell their own stories in their own words, on their own terms.
As much as the queer couple are at the heart of Es & Flo, this is also a story about queering what family means for everyone. The idea of love, community, and female solidarity being a choice—and indeed a verb—shines through. The sense of community, the family Es and Flo found at Greenham, where their relationship was forged, being echoed in later life, is a truly powerful.
By Dr Emily Garside
Es & Flo is a Wales Millennium Centre production running at Wales Millennium Centre until May 13th, 2023 before transferring to the Kiln Theatre London, running June 5th – June 24th, 2023.
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