by Franca Rame
Commuters pass a statue in the Margravine Cemetery, London
The third of the monologues performed by actor Jane Gwilliams and written by Italian playwright Franca Rame is a comedy, where we meet a woman in lockdown, trapped in a dead-end marriage, desperate to escape the husband, children and mother-in-law who crowd her out of a life she never wanted.
She finds partial escape from her cramped and cooped-up flat when she bunks off work for the day, determined to leave the family and hit the bottle, unapologetically. Soon she finds herself in the arms of an unlikely colleague she barely knows, and recounts a day of drunkneness, cheap hotels and carousing with sharp wit and humour.
Written during Franca Rame's time at the Riverside Studios in the 1980s, and set in the tower blocks of Hammersmith's Clement Attlee estate, this Barker January production takes place in the quiet beauty of the Margravine Cemetery nearby. Here she lets rip about everything that is driving her mad to picnickers in search of peace. The cemetery providing a perfect backdrop to the futility of her narrative.
But at some point our heroine has to come home and face the music. So what does she think she will find? Divorce, true love, or a mother-in-law still knittting in the corner?
The Margravine Cemetery during Lockdown - by Katy Emck OBE
It is a source of great pride that Barker-January productions have chosen to hold their first, post-covid arts event in Margravine cemetery. “Coming Home” is a good title for a film taking place in a cemetery where we all meet our final resting place. Also for a time when have been forcibly kept at home, and experienced the meaning of home in new ways.
Margravine is one of the most loved places in West London. The public’s footfall is literally stamped into its grounds, which are threaded with multiple footpaths snaking between the trees and the graves. These grassy oases are used daily by hundreds of people and dogs seeking fresh air, solitude and a chance to think.
During lockdown Margravine came into its own. Every other gravestone became a harbour to someone reading, listening to their headphones, dreaming, savouring the spring air, free of pollution for the first time in living memory, newly alive to the rampant abundance of nature in this central London spot.
During lockdown the quietness of the graveyard was respected, as people kept their distance, moving about singly or in pairs. Yet we all felt so connected. It was as if the true nature of the place became fully visible. We realised that it was OUR graveyard, a shared space we had too often overlooked as we rushed about in our commuters frenzy or buzzed off on holidays abroad. It was close to home and - newly confined to our immediate neighbourhoods - we loved it for that.
The shared space of the cemetery felt more relevant than ever under the threat of coronavirus. We were more aware than ever of the tower block of Charing Cross hospital looming above us, with the cemetery’s central pathway leading up to and from the hospital in an uncompromising line. The presence of the hospital, for the many of us who’ve been successfully cared for there, was a source of comfort as well as a reminder of death. Never more so than now.
This cemetery has been fertile land for a long time. Before it was made into a burial site in 1867, it was Fulham Fields, a market garden and orchard. Now it has more than 350 trees of 67 different species of tree in it, most of them planted in memory of a loved one. Magnolia, cherry, beech, laburnum, chestnut, stone pines, white pines, ponderosa. It is awash with grasses and wildflowers: after the bluebells we get the yarrow, creeping buttercup, common mouse ear, wall flora, then autumn hawk bit and beaked hawk’s beard.
Now, as lockdown eases, neighbours meet and chat, walkers let their pets play together among the graves. Children swarm again in groups over the trees, or play cricket against the war memorial. Jugglers, tai chee practitioners and auditioning actors gesture and pace beneath the trees - and newcomers marvel at the sculptural beauty and the enduring love expressed in the gravestones.
What better time than now to bring actors, picnickers and cameramen together under its trees, to celebrate what we have come through.
A margravine, incidentally, is the wife of a margrave, an antiquated chivalric rank.