Last night I saw a historical gender commentary filled with a strong female ensemble and potential inter-genre success. Two and half hours spent trawling the 1930s New York high society space gives enough time to think of all the changes to contemporary ideas of bravery, negotiation and sisterhood. The play, emphasised not to be a feminist work, cannot be confused for one. The Women does not line up with the modern ideas of feminism and equality, steering clear of concepts like independent empowerment and unbiased opportunity which would not fit with the time and overcomplicate an already intricate plot. Rather than being about women, it is about society, and the relationships and trials within that while following the highest and lowest class in Manhattan. Their antiquated thoughts and logic are humorous and insightful in outlining the chaos of social expectations from that period.
The plot of The Women is something special; it has a complexity that is rare to find in female-driven dramas. Instead of focusing on the bitchy nature of a bossy woman, this play focuses on the deep-seeded distrust and inescapable headache that follows high profile individuals trying to live a fun life in each their own way. Director Alexander Andrews does an incredible job educating and entertaining an wide audience in his exploration of wealth, leisure and love. It is refreshing to watch a crafty piece about blame and forgiveness, advice and confusion, all unfold throughout the lives of the most comfortable of women.
However there is no sensible woman in this piece, every character is catty beyond sense, and the exceptions (such as the sweet Peggy or blatant Ms. Blake) are faulted and destined to progress very little beyond motherhood and repressed expression. Only two characters hint at the future of womankind and the blurring of lines between feminine and masculine; Nancy Blake played by Antonia Zappia and Little Mary played by Phoebe Clarke. The former is an observer who watches romance and dignity shred every minute in a close knit social sphere. The latter is a daughter who we see explore her self-confidence in an ever-changing household that refuses to accommodate her curiously. Phoebe Clark not only creates a world for her very young character, but creates an instant attraction to her fleeting journey learning of love’s wavering uncertainty. Her character was standalone in her world, but I was attached to her from the moment she jumped on stage until she left, always encouraging that an individual takes control of their own decisions and life path, not leaving into the hands and opinions of others.
Two scenes stand out for me, indicating the high level of acting and storytelling the cast and crew has managed to create. First, the scene between the maids Jane (Sian Luxford) and Maggie (Chloe Pryce) was incredibly magnetising and I wish I could watch it over and over again. Luxford and Pryce had a brilliant comedic chemistry and the scene was without fault for comedic timing, dramatic irony and wit. Pryce’s Maggie was dry and full of some of my favourite one liners in the show, making her arguably the most relatable and nonchalant character in The Women. Sian Luxford balances a publicly mild maid and then privately melodramatic woman, which makes the informative scene more enjoyable and lightens the mood on a heavy topic of infidelity.
The second stand out is no surprise to anyone who has seen the show; the climatic manipulation and confession of the end. The rage, jealousy, deceit and smugness of every woman was raised and held expertly by the scene’s performers Catherine Davies, Christie New, Alyssa Stevenson, Kate Rutherford and Emma Birdsall. They created a natural flow of power and control in a scene of cat and mouse, or rather cats and a single, unwelcome, man-stealing rat. It was incredible to witness the scene which had all the makings of a professional drama that seems unscripted and emotion-driven.
There was no feeling of weakness in the entire ensemble, they changed scenes and conversation topics effortlessly. The pace, abundant accents and oversaturation of dialogue did mean that often lines went unappreciated. It was too easy to be distracted by one character’s expression and miss another’s potential punchline. The set rectifies this; it is simple and understated allowing the audience to focus on specific people and conversations. While a portion of the show will not be facing you regardless of the seat, you never miss the atmosphere and tension of the play. Alex Smiles, who is the Lighting Designer and Technical Operator of the show, unnoticeably humanises everything, making it the visuals clear and simple. The lack of extravagance in these aspects allows a greater focus on the lovely costuming choices and, once again, the sheer amount of talk these characters express.
The Women is a enjoyable show, it’s long so that it doesn’t need to diminish the values and important points of the original play. It was written by an incredibly sharp-witted woman, and is brought to life by the dedicated cast of women that bring out the comedy and insanity of Clare Boothe Luce‘s work. It is shame the show is only on until Saturday, so don’t miss out in watching creative chaos unfold before your eyes at the Depot Theatre, Marrickville.
Sabrina Stubbs – Theatre Now & Talking Arts