These two short pieces are presented in the NST City Studio Theatre, a simple curtained space which is ideal for this kind of minimalist drama requiring no set. These plays by 2TimeTheatre are part of the second MakeitSO Season at the Nuffield, showcasing new work created by local artists, in this case writers and actors based in and around Winchester.
Cecily (Lewd Women...) and Rachel (The Fasting Girl) O’Neill are mother and daughter and each directed the rehearsed reading of her own play. Both plays take interesting stances on ‘women’s issues’ and I felt that the greater experience of Cecily showed through in both the writing and the direction. This is not to dismiss Rachel’s The Fasting Girl which contained some moments of tension and approached some comment on anorexia, the validity of self-deprivation as a mode of protest, the role of social media, the impact of climate change and the ability of the individual to influence society and politics. The play makes reference to the hunger strikes of the suffragettes and the IRA as images to support the position taken by Eva (intelligently read by Trudi Licence). This long list perhaps highlights why I found the piece ultimately frustrating, as I was unsure what point(s) it was trying to make. I feel the play needs better focus or to be expanded into a longer piece to give ample time to explore the issues raised. It also was not well-served by the rehearsed reading format as it was difficult for the actresses to maintain the eye contact and confrontation required when reading the script. The exchanges between Dana (Kate McCarthy Price) as the psychologist and Eva, who is refusing to talk except through fairy tales, are reminiscent of Equus but needed more power to contrast most effectively with the change of tone as Dana’s true identity is revealed at the end (no spoilers!). Nevertheless, I am sure this is a piece that will continue to develop and I will be interested to see it again in its next incarnation.
Lewd Women... is written as a play for voice but worked well in this simple setting and, being intended for voice, lost little to being a rehearsed reading rather than a full performance. Based on actual accounts from the Hampshire Records Office and using folk songs to enliven and highlight, this piece has a strong ensemble with three actresses taking on the roles of ‘commentators’ of the time. The well-intentioned and self-satisfied voices of Rev. John Wellwood (Ros Liddiard) and landowner and magistrate Sir Robert Allan (Kate McCarthy Price) are set against that of reformer Elizabeth Howard (Katherine Hodgikinson). The men are totally lacking in empathy or sympathy for the women incarcerated in the Bridewell in Winchester for the ‘crime’ of becoming pregnant out of wedlock. Condemned to serve up to twelve months with hard labour, it is hardly surprising that a number of the women and their babies failed to survive. All three women gave strong performances with Ros Liddiard making eye contact with the audience as though defying them to argue with Wellwood’s smug point of view. Sir Robert is given lines which bring Portia to mind in The merchant of Venice, ‘The law allows it’, especially with the role being played by a woman. I felt Howard’s voice could have come out more strongly, although this did emphasise the minor impact of protest on the male leaders of the time. The notes don’t tell us whether these are actual people or composites of the prevalent attitudes nor do they explain why the male roles are taken by women, which I did feel, despite good performances, detracted from the impact of the contrast between the attitudes of the men and the plaintive, understated simple facts about the women in the Bridewell and their fates, delivered by the chorus. These facts were cleverly underlined by the use of the many folk songs telling tales of women seduced and deserted by men. The company has a strong chorus of singers with Heather Bradford (who also directed the music) and Heidi DeQuincey standing out. The play ends with a rousing reworking of The Wild Rover, with the audience happily clapping and singing along. This is a piece which deserves a wider audience.
Only showing for two nights unfortunately in this festival. If you can’t get there tonight watch out for them in the future.