Review: Penelope Quadrangle and the Meaning of Friendship

‘Siri… play my pleasantly surprised playlist’

A global study found that men account “for an average of 95 per cent of all persons convicted of homicide”.

This study clearly did not take Natalie into account. 

Serial killing is a male dominated field, but in the rise of ‘girlified’ entertainment, Penelope Quadrangle and the Meaning of Friendship proves women can be anything they want to be. Except broken off from their coffee date partner/serial killer/best friend in the entire world.

Because shouldn’t friends be there for one another, even if it means hiding a body?

In an uproariously satiric dissection of girlhood, this student written play, penned and directed by Amenie Groves explores what might happen when the unbridled loyalty of teenage cliques fawns its way into later life.

Image credits: Paul Ashley

We walk into the ADC auditorium to Rihanna, and are met with Sophie Richardson’s strikingly balanced and visually intriguing set. Three panels line upstage, and the blend of pinks, yellows and greens paint a picturesque and cohesive opening scene. The use of colour throughout the play is to be highly commended, with continuation through lighting, costume and set symbolic and enhancing. A chalkboard sign, advertising Treehumpers’ pea and foraged nettle soup, tells us everything we need to know.

Cue the lights.

Penelope Quadrangle, played by Edith Stewart, enters the stage: the audience starts to laugh and they do. Not. Stop.

Enough praise cannot be given to this cast of four. With stand out performances from every actor, the standing ovation this play earned was beyond warranted. A crowd favourite was Penelope’s haplessly endearing friend Bridget, depicted flawlessly by Footlights’ actor, Sameera Bowers. A character who evolves in our opinion as Penelope’s perception of her does, Bowers had the audience on Bridget’s side right from the start, keeping us hooked and guessing until the play’s very last scene. Her unapologetic commitment to the bit and priceless comedic timing was a real treat to watch. Abi Green’s Natalie was everything you could ask for from an omen of terror. And I have never been more convinced by the portrayal of an old lady than I was by Theo Parkin’s Mrs Quagmire-Tosh. The voice, posture and gait were sidesplittingly convincing, Theo’s versatility and entitlement had the audience in stitches and kept them there.

Image credits: Paul Ashley

As Penelope, Edith Stewart’s volatility between placating, pomp and vulnerability (but absolutely, definitely, not loneliness) provided a mirror for every member of the audience to identify with. A challenging role, with a hefty chunk of stream-of-conscious monologues, Stewart holds the audience’s attention and entirely nails it. If the witty premise of the plot isn’t enough to convince you, I encourage you to see this show for the pleasure of watching Cambridge comedy acting at its peak.

Additional credits must go to Aidán Sinclair and Zoe C Edwards for their impressive sound and lighting design that liven the tone, create considerable suspense and are well suited to the creativity of the piece. The technical elements of a student show often go unnoticed unless something goes wrong, but I’m pleased to say applause is due for the cleanly accomplished effects that really bring this show together.

Image credits: Paul Ashley

The bare, warmly lit bulbs hanging low across the stage add an intimate framing of what can be an often intimidating space, and serve as a constant reminder of the exposure of this piece. If Penelope Quadrangle and the Meaning of Friendship is anything, it is raw. From the fully lit set changes, to the Fleabag-esque stolen glances of the cast, nothing is left hidden or obscured. In a play that, beneath its comic hilarity, questions the very heart of what it means to be a friend, such rawness is ingeniously placed. Amenie certainly took a risk in the overtness of her approach, and it is exactly what this play needs. As accomplished a director as she is a writer, the vision of herself, Mae Cook and Akshit Ahuja was executed with consistency, satire, and an astounding level of polish.

This show premiered in an extract at the Downing Festival of New Writing, and a post performance discussion panel questioned why exactly it is that Natalie kills (as if the horrors of customer service are not motive enough). Whilst the extended version of Penelope Quadrangle does not exactly answer this, I don’t think it needs to. Interestingly, for a play that laughs at naturalism, it is peculiarly real. You will undoubtedly leave the ADC still smiling, but with a new perspective on the friendships you’ve formed and the people that really matter.

Anyone who’s made the transition from high school to the dubious state of adulthood, is looking to hide a body, or has worked (however briefly) in customer service, this play is for you.


Penelope Quadrangle and the Meaning of Friendship is showing on the 15th – 18th of May at 11:00 pm at the ADC Theatre. Book your tickets here.

Image credits: Paul Ashley

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