Penelope Quadrangle is a “fun, flirty, fabulous” young woman who’s absolutely, definitely not lonelyPaul Ashley with permission for Varsity

“So, Amenie: how was Mash last night?” It’s not a typical opening for a preview, but it speaks to the extent of Penelope Quadrangle’s extraordinary marketing campaign. In collaboration with Cambridge’s hottest night out (which, as we all know, is saying lots), Amenie, to promote her new play, organised a club night themed around the titular character – complete with lots of pink and a circulation of the classics: Britney, Beyoncé, Shakira. Her voice, hoarse from the evening prior, already betrays her answer to my question: “It was really cool!”

“Amenie, to promote her new play, organised a club night themed around the titular character”

Penelope Quadrangle and the Meaning of Friendship has been in the works for about a year now – Amenie conceived of it at the end of last Easter term. State-educated, she tells me that before coming to uni she had little access to the facilities that Cambridge theatre (for all its sins) offers in ample supply to budding writers. After a pitch for the Edinburgh Fringe (while it was still in development), the play was picked up by Downing’s Festival of New Writing, and debuted there as an extract at the end of last term. Around the same time, Amenie pitched again, this time successfully, to the ADC, and the show will now make its feature-length debut in the iconic auditorium this week.

Amenie has directed before, but not extensively. So what’s it like taking on dual creative roles? Her answer is twofold: on the one hand, it gives her the control to execute her specific vision (a departure from the Downing Festival, which stipulates all entries be staged by other directors so that writers can view their piece from the audience’s perspective). On the other hand, Amenie admits, the show is twice her responsibility if things go wrong: “I can’t blame anyone except myself, really”. Let’s hope she won’t need to.

For those who didn’t catch the Downing extract: Penelope Quadrangle is a “fun, flirty, fabulous” young woman who’s absolutely, definitely not lonely – and she’ll tell you as much. She is, however, hopelessly dependent on her ‘best friend’ from school, Natalie. Summed up in three words, Natalie is “terrifying, intimidating, manipulative”. She’s also a serial killer. So why does Penelope stick around her? Because they’re ‘best friends’, of course. Which is why, whenever Natalie has an ‘accident’ with one of her elderly clients, she can rely on Penelope to clean up the mess – who goes at the job in full confidence that Natalie would do the same for her (she wouldn’t).

“Penelope Quadrangle is a ‘fun, flirty, fabulous’ young woman who’s absolutely, definitely not lonely”

I can already sense the pathos lurking beneath the jet-black comedy. The play seems to speak to loneliness, to toxic codependency and the struggle to move beyond the dynamics of adolescence amid the torturous landscape of your twenties. It’s inspired by much of the 21st-century feminist canon – Barbie, Fleabag, Bridget Jones – but also Amenie’s personal baggage from before uni: her experience in customer service, which gave rise to her conception of the fanciful Penelope, and her past history with toxic high-school friendships. Penelope’s tragedy, she tells me, is that she’s never moved beyond this past to come into her own. As someone who was trapped in my hometown for two years before coming to Cambridge (thanks Covid), I can definitely relate to that. Can’t we all?

Amenie has taken her experiences and written them large: Penelope Quadrangle will be camp, right down to glitter in the blood trails. Between this and its focus on female friendships, I’m reminded of the works of Pedro Almódovar (Amenie studies Spanish, after all). Serious themes are often blended with comedy nowadays, but the murderous remit of Penelope Quadrangle is a bold leap for student writing. How is Amenie handling this? “It’s definitely more of a comedy” she acknowledges, something I hope won’t stop her from mining the play’s exquisitely dark dramatic potential.

“The murderous remit of Penelope Quadrangle is a bold leap for student writing”

The play, Amenie tells me, was written and pitched with the Corpus Playroom in mind. Instead, to her surprise, she was offered the ADC (which necessitated some rewrites). Not only is the theatre a more demanding space to fill up each night, but the play needs to share much of its set with next week’s Mainshow, Thunderstorm, a Chinese drama set in the 1930s. It’s difficult to imagine two stories that contrast more, or why management would splice them together. Amenie assures me, though, that the two productions have been in close collaboration, and credits the tech teams of each for organising a smooth operation together.


Mountain View

The 39 Steps makes for a jolly good show

All that’s left then is to see if the gamble pays off – we can hope it’ll be worth it for Amenie’s vision (she’d like the play to have a life outside of Cambridge). But what’s in store for the audience? “You’ll come away appreciating your friends”, Amenie tells me. It seems we can learn something from Penelope’s ordeal. Hopefully she can too.

Penelope Quadrangle and the Meaning of Friendship is showing at the ADC Theatre from Wednesday 15th to Saturday 18th May, at 11pm.