Wales Millennium Centre’s latest original production, Es & Flo, opens at Wales Millennium Centre’s Weston Studio on 28 April, before playing at The Kiln in London in June.
Written by Jennifer Lunn, Es & Flo has already won two awards (the Popcorn Writing Award 2020 and the Nancy Dean Lesbian Playwriting Award 2022, but its theatrical release was delayed due to the pandemic. Leading the cast of five female characters are star of Netflix’s Sex Education Doreene Blackstock who plays Flo, and theatre and TV actor Liz Crowther who plays Es.
Who are you playing in Es & Flo, and can you tell us a little about your character?
Liz: Es and Flo are an older interracial lesbian couple who’ve been together for forty years and who have a close, loving, passionate relationship. They both had interesting jobs – Flo was a librarian and Es, who I play, was a teacher. Before they met, Es was married to a man and had a son – but she’s kept her relationship with Flo from him. When we first see Es in the play, we realise that she’s showing signs of dementia and, before long, someone arrives at their door – which starts an unravelling of their situation and an explosion of secrets.
Doreene: I play the role of Flo – she’s an incredible character – fiery and passionate – and, above all, she really cares. She met Es at the Greenham Common Peace Camp in the 80s, and she still has that activism in her to fight for what is right and what she believes in. She loves her life and loves Es deeply, but their relationship has been complicated by Section 28 which, as Es’ health deteriorates, makes their situation incredibly difficult.
What drew you to the role?
Doreene: It was a queer story that I could identify with, and I felt that it was an opportunity to tell a story on stage that I’d never seen before. We see plenty of young queer people on stage and screen, but this story is about two older women…women who have lived a life that you wouldn’t have expected them to have lived. Most of the time women like Es and Flo seem almost invisible but, with Jen (Lunn)’s story, they’ll be on stage and witnessed, and I thought that was just incredible and something I really wanted to be part of.
Liz: I loved the back story of how Es and Flo had met at Greenham Common Peace Camp in the 80s and that really appealed to me. It’s such an incredible part of our history but is often forgotten. While we were rehearsing in London, we met some of the women who were part of the camp, and their daughters. Meeting them was an honour – they really changed things with their non-violent direct action yet had to put up with so much – horrible things were said about them in the press, and many had their children taken away from them – which has happened to Es in the play. In Es & Flo, we get to sing some of the Greenham songs such as ‘We are women, We are strong’. When we perform them, we really feel these affirmations. It’s such an empowering play.
In the play, Es has a Polish carer called Beata and her young daughter Kasia forms a close friendship with Es. Is this something that’s you’ve enjoyed?
Liz: Es has an incredible connection with children. At Greenham, she’d been a ‘book lady’ who read with children, and when she meets Kasia her love of being around children is revitalised. I’m like Es in that sense – I enjoy being around kids – I’ve got 26 nieces and nephews and 5 Godchildren and have a great time being silly around them. Kasia’s role is shared between two young actors in Cardiff (Reesie Dupe and Mirella Sicilano) and two young actors in London. They all have different personalities, bringing a different quality to the scenes, yet all expressing their emotions so well. It’s been lovely to see them grow.
Es & Flo has an all-female cast and creative team, led by director Susie McKenna. What’s that experience been like?
Doreene – It’s brilliant to work with this team – it’s a very safe environment and we all take care of each other. You go into a welcoming rehearsal room, and it’s very playful and funny – as a company we all know it’s ok to be vulnerable and make mistakes and we are all very human. All the women in the play are crucial in the plot – they are all strong women who have secrets – and they’re all changed for the better by the end of the play. It’s an honour sharing the stage with Liz, Michelle, Adrianna, Reesie, and Mirella.
What’s next for you both?
Liz: Es & Flo will be playing at The Kiln Theatre in London in June, so we’re all looking forward to that. I’ve also been working with a fantastic company called Separate Doors, which helps integrate actors with learning difficulties. You rehearse silently just using text and gesture and movement and some words but taking all unnecessary words out so that the actors don’t get confused. I’m looking forward to returning to do more work with them this year.
Doreene: Earlier this year, I filmed the fourth series of Sex Education, which is out on Netflix this autumn. I love working on this series and we’ve all been on the most amazing journey together. It’s one of the best things on TV that I’ve done – when I first read the script, I said to myself ‘I must be part of this’, which is how I felt with Es & Flo. I’ve loved playing Eric’s mum, who embraces having a gay son. The announcement that Ncuti Gatwa (who plays Eric), is going to be the new Dr Who totally blew my mind, and I can’t wait to see him take on this iconic role. As a black actor who’s been in this business for many years, it feels like a huge moment for black actors and I’m so proud of him.
In short, why should people some to see Es & Flo?
Doreene: It’s a wonderful queer story but I’d say it’s much more than that – it’s about love, loss, family …
Liz: Yes, and while it’s sometimes sad, it’s also very funny. And I think it’s a play that will appeal to everyone.
Es & Flo premieres at Wales Millennium Centre’s Weston Studio from 28 April – 13 May. Tickets are available now at wmc.org.uk