Jennifer McGregor’s Winners Wear Crowns is an intriguing character study that presents all the horror of that well-known stereotype, the pushy mother obsessed with her daughter’s success within the mother’s desired field. This production presents what looks like an American cliché – about success at beauty pageants – but what stands out is the subtlety of the writing and characterisation, with some people seeming to think that McGregor, Scottish, is actually American herself.
The character McGregor has created is Mississippi mother Patricia Harris Williams and she is not a monster, depicted monstrously, but someone we can recognise whilst having major issues with the choices, and justifications, she makes. Through the use of visible costume changes (rather interesting to watch), built in make-up scenes, and clear story-telling within the monologue, time passes, states change and Patricia’s beautiful baby Mandi grows up, with great triumphs, increasing disappointments and expected tensions.
The audience can pick out the clues to so much of what is really going on, things Pat does not appear to see, because of the quality of the writing, so that the problems inevitably brewing are obvious, but beautifully depicted without being spelt out. Pat’s relations with husband, daughter and mentor are clear, though even more about some of these people would be welcome. Her tight focus means it makes sense that we only gain glimpses of others, but it would be satisfying to see further developments for the piece that might allow fleshing out of the people in Pat’s life.
We do, though, see Pat’s preoccupations, her wishes and feelings for her daughter and her expectations of return, and her inability to look past her blinkered hopes. McGregor, as writer, director and actor, shows a flair for irony, subtle provocation, detailed observation and wry wit. There are some strong poignant moments, as well as fine comedy, though there could be a little more emotion embodied towards the end of the piece, but the subtle creation of Patricia may well deliberately set a distance between character and audience.
Winners Wear Crowns does, however, raise a question about where McGregor wants to take us. We, as an audience, gain a fine look into a very specific world and are able to judge a character delicately drawn. However, the picture seems somewhat removed, as if overly protected behind glass. There may be an occasional reflection of oneself or another in the casing but connection is somewhat hindered. This does not mean the piece cannot be developed, rather that it should be. It is also perfectly possible that you might be someone who likes such a presentation – a fly caught in amber – in which case, add another star to this rating!
Winners Wear Crowns shows great promise in the writing, with some detailed direction, and it is presented well – this reviewer just wants more because there is a sense that more from McGregor is very possible.
16 – 28 August (not Mondays), 17:15 (18:00) @ Leith on the Fringe @ Out of the Blue Drill Hall