"They [...] served the most convincing erotically-charged gushing over a red onion and gruyere filled pastry I’ll ever see"Paul Ashely with permission for Varsity

If you step into The Heong Gallery this Lent, prepare to be swept up into a bizarre 1950s world where eccentric ‘widows’ dictate the rules. Giggling nervously as our entry gift of sticky tags renamed us in the spirit of white Southern housewives, the audience sat down in front of a kitschy-ily clothed table, slightly bemused. As one audience member, ‘Marjorie’, was shown to a seat specially reserved for her new alias, she understandably giggled more nervously than the rest.

While the cast strolled about, addressing us as ‘sweetie-pie’ in southern drawls, our bemusement only increased, as Verna, in an expansive hooped skirt, patchworked with denim and ready to take out anyone within a three metre radius, began questioning me on whether it was my first ‘quiche breakfast’. Yet, as it became clear, this was the perfect welcome to a play which revels in barely concealing a subversive, camp extravagance beneath its overt conservatism, with Robin Simon and Thomas Lawes’ costuming providing the perfect taste of what this production serves up.

As the ‘Annual Quiche Breakfast’ finally begins, we’re dragged headlong into the peculiar activities of ‘The Susan B. Anthony Society for the Sisters of Gertude Stein’: talking about quiche, judging quiche, arguing about quiche, and, eventually, eating quiche. After we begin to settle into the strange, hyper-euphemistic dynamics of the society, events take a turn - and then just keep turning. Leaving the audience in fits of giggles and with their jaws on the floor, Lulie (Grace Leaman) fires plot twist after plot twist, as the actors’ comic timing gets sharper by the minute.

“The five women’s punchy, fast-paced interactions left me unable to look away”

Taking on silliness without an ounce of self-consciousness, the cast stared audience members dead in the eyes as they chatted like old friends, accused them of a murky past of poor quiche choices (poor Marjorie), and encouraged them to join in proudly declaring their society membership. The only thing lacking was the audience’s ability to match this cornucopian store of energy, perhaps unused to having characters watching them just as much as they watched the play.

Nevertheless, the cast glossed over any awkward refusals to participate with the composure of a housewife smoothing over a creased tablecloth. Barely taking a breath as they delivered an emotionally and physically demanding script for over an hour, the five women’s punchy, fast-paced interactions left me unable to look away (and a bit worried that if I did, I might be dragged onstage).

In a room designed to be an art gallery and lit by hospital-esque strip lights, the team did an incredible job with such a small and exposed space. While seating us firmly at the breakfast table, the audience’s proximity to the action perfectly captured the society’s setting: both a space claustrophobic with excessive politeness and repression, and one which calls us to share in the surprising freedom which arises from being trapped.

With an intimacy, warmth and originality hard to find outside of small society productions, each character was vividly brought to life by the cast. Emma Lewis’ accent was unfaltering, Margaret Saunderson excelled in making British girl Ginny the butt of many a joke, and Alice Roberts executed Vern’s boldness and intensity with show-stealing ardour. From embracing a quiche to embracing each other, they pulled off some absurd physical comedy professionally – and served the most convincing erotically-charged gushing over a red onion and gruyere filled pastry I’ll ever see.

“You won’t be able to resist laughing, crying and singing along”

A particular standout was Izzy Lane’s immaculate performance as Dale. From the jaw-dropping monologue unveiling her tragic reason behind eradicating men from her life, to her transformation of the play’s most devastating scene into one of its funniest moments, she whipped the audience into fits of giggles before sending them into shocked silence with ease. Such sudden changes of tone were handled deftly by director Lily Ellis and producer Tilly White; moments of emotional vulnerability genuinely moved me, even amongst the satirical excess and euphemistic salaciousness. Keeping the audience in on the joke of what it really means to love quiche (clue is in the name), the farcical adoration permeating the women’s interactions only momentarily teetered into becoming overtired.


Mountain View

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Working with a limited space, an absurd plot and a dauntingly close audience, this production breezily pulls off pace, humour and emotional intensity. Even if interactive shows, or quiches, aren’t your thing, between being gifted your new ’50s housewife name and the clearing away of the quiche breakfast, you won’t be able to resist laughing, crying and singing along until you become a firm member of this exuberantly silly and refreshingly joyful quiche-appreciating sisterhood. There’s no better way to spend the lead up to Valentine’s Day than getting yourself down (and dirty) in Downing to devour this delicious serving of a cult classic.

5 Lesbians Eating a Quiche is showing at The Heong Gallery in Downing College from Fri 9th - Mon 12th February 2024.