Tiff Milner (writer/director) presents a well-researched retelling of a lesbian herstory, set in twentieth century Paris, at the eponymous the lesbian bar Le Monocle. The show opens with Hannah Khan (Francine) delivering an understated narrative. After a slow start, the show picks up in pace when Violette (Amy Fitzgibbon) enters the stage, showing off her athletics medals.
A true celebration of lesbian herstory
Lisa Greenhalgh plays a strong Lulu, the warm and welcoming matriarchal bar proprietor, who takes lesbian waifs and strays under her wing. Running a tight ship, she explains the ‘lesbians only’ rule, alongside no arguing with the boss, and to remember your hats, coats and manners.
Lulu’s advice to Francine: “Don’t let anyone tell you, where you belong,” is a key theme of the play. This concern about not fitting in, voiced by Violette in her sporting context, in addition to Francine’s urge to escape Paris so her and her lover can share their love publically, without judgement, leave the audience considering how far society has come, regarding LGBT+ societal acceptance.
The multi-layered character of Violette experiences a series of societal challenges; her determination to fit in a racing car leads her to make an extreme medical choice. Her bisexual identity causes ructions when she competes in high profile sporting events, with Parisien society and the media pouring judgement and scorn upon her, in equal measure, regardless of the gender of the partner she presents with. Her historically accurate story echoes current issues of the inclusion of transgender athletes in sport today; Violette was banned from competing in women’s events, due to her presenting as “too much like a man, to compete like a woman”. A moving and well-acted scene by Fitzgibbon airs her frustration with these scenarios.
Samuel Mason’s understated Brassai assists the backstory; narrative time-jumps fill in essential details to the plot, as he shares his memories of that time, with Francine. Brassai, a male Hungarian photographer, documented the women who frequented Le Monocle, despite Lulu’s initial adamancy to admit a ‘non lesbian’ into her bar.
The use of a radio announcement about the Berlin 1936 Olympics preparation signposts the rise of Hitler and the Nazi regime. This leads to a moving scene in the bar, where one character aptly voices that “Tragedy is a choice, that you make”.
Doing EdFringe on a budget can mean basic props and costumes. The use of water in vessels would be a simple and more convincing addition to the bar scenes, where the action takes place. The venue was affected by from some noise pollution from the bar outside. The production could benefit from the use of background music to help set the historical and geographical context.
Go and see Le Monocle to learn more about this courageous group of lesbians in pre-war Paris. It successfully voices the stories of the voiceless. A true celebration of lesbian herstory.