Homeless ‘bag lady’ surprises audience with hidden depths

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Sheffield writer Marcia Layne has written a new play, Bag Lady, that challenges and celebrates the notion of the angry and strong black woman.

The play, which comes to Sheffield next week, features Eve, who appears covered in a huge overcoat. The producers say: “She may epitomise the homeless ‘bag lady’ but that’s not the whole story. As she peels back the layers, through her passionate rants and reflections we discover that not only is it okay to be angry, sometimes it’s essential for our survival.”

Flo Wilson, who has been seen on TV in Fat Friends and Shameless, plays Eve.

Writer Marcia is an award-winning playwright who was one of the writers of 20 Tiny Plays About Sheffield for the Crucible Theatre.

She is also part of Hidden Gems Productions, a new Yorkshire-based group who are putting on the show.

Here Marcia answers questions about the show and her work

What inspired you to write Bag Lady? Was it a real person or situation?

I have had many conversations over the years about how the stereotype of the ‘angry black woman’ can be inhibiting and cause some women to censor themselves and suppress passion or assertiveness because it’s too often misconstrued as anger.

You may have seen this issue raised on Channel 4 news by Naomi Campbell. My starting point was what if a woman felt completely free and safe to speak her mind.

I explored the idea of the impact on your mental health if you were not able to fully express yourself and that was how my character Eve was born.

There has been some inspiration from real events and real people including my late sister, Jackie, who I have dedicated the play to. There may even be a little of me in there.

What will audiences learn from the Bag Lady?

That sometimes it’s okay to be angry. That the truth can set you free. That what you see isn’t always what you get.

So far our audiences have come from all walks of life and have found a lot to relate to. The wealth of themes the place touches on have provoked a lot of discussion which has been great.

One of the things I hope is conveyed is how important it is to talk and to listen (in general but also specifically related to mental health).

Are you an angry and strong black woman yourself?

In Bag Lady I’m exploring notions of ‘angry black women’ and to a lesser extent ‘the strong black woman’ which can make people feel caged in and limited. For example assuming the label of the ‘strong black woman’ can make it difficult for a person to show any weakness which can be detrimental if, say, they don’t ask for help when they need it. I can be both strong and angry (like most people) but I try not to apply any labels to myself.

What made you become a writer?

I’ve been writing stories since I was seven or eight years old and I told everyone when I was growing up I wanted to be an author, including my nonplussed careers officer at secondary school. Writing has been the only thing I ever wanted to do and I’m happy to be doing something I love.

What do you think about Black History Month?

It’s a positive thing but I don’t feel events around Black History only need to happen in October. Bag Lady explores some aspects of history like the Transatlantic slave trade so will hopefully appeal to a Black History Month audience.

Do you think that Sheffield is a welcoming and inclusive city for black people?

I came to Sheffield to go to university, loved it and stayed. I like living here, my son was born here and unless I win the lottery (which I never remember to do!) I have no plans to leave.

Bag Lady is the Hallam University Hub next Friday at 8pm as part of the Off The Shelf literary festival.

Box office: 0114 256 5567 or go to http://www.arenaticketshop.co.uk