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Sunday, 24 March 2013

The Female of the Species (Dunstable Rep) - Review

****

I have been musing on The Female of the Species over a snowy weekend. Nothing much else to do when you are full of cold and the horseracing is off. Don’t reckon it is that special. It caused a fuss when first performed because of its associations with Germaine Greer but, as a play, nothing to write home about. There’s an irony there, I am full of ‘em when I have nothing better to do, as Joanna Murray-Smith’s piece is all about a writer and her feminist writings. But although farcical at times it ain’t a farce and though rich in some acerbic lines, many of them filthy, it ain’t a rollicking laugh. I suppose it’s a comic drama, nothing wrong with that, but the drama is fairly low key and the characters and speeches pretty formulaic. In a feminist way.

So if I were not enamoured by the horse, how did I rate the jockeys? Generally pretty good. None were irritatingly weak and one, Angela Goss, was outstandingly strong. Not an original comment but it gets increasingly difficult to be original with Miss Goss. She is so bloody marvellous in practically everything she does you soon run out of superlatives. I once said that the Rep should erect a plaque to her. I have changed my mind. They should give her a complete row starting with her Beverley in Abigail’s Party a thousand years ago, and finishing up with this one. Her Margot Mason, creative blocked feminist writer and spitter of pithy prose, was a joyful and totally believable personification that Ms Greer would have instantly recognised. Magnificent in both form and delivery. But I get ahead of myself.

Margot Mason is trapped in her upmarket house, excellent and realistic set from Mervyn Wilson, by a gun toting student full of bitterness and a desire for revenge. I shan’t relate the whole plot but I reckon having someone pointing a gun at you who states you killed her ovaries and her mother, the latter obliquely, must be pretty unnerving. Trouble is this set up wasn’t. Ally Stafa did a competent job as the disturbed Molly Rivers but you never for a moment felt that she would pull the trigger. And I think we should have. Perhaps it was the writing, perhaps it was Julie Foster’s direction, but real fear was never on the agenda. This was black comedy lite and the first act suffered for it.

After that we got a variety of characters wheeled in at suitable intervals to up the comic levels and provide various slants on feminism. Lots of clever speechifying, little dramatic drive. Only my opinion but, again only my opinion, they all did them extremely well. Those jockeys and horses again. Christine Hobart was a nice dysfunctional daughter, costume contrasting cleverly with her more elegant mother and spouting maternal and marital frustrations, and Joe Butcher’s Doolittle taxi driver spun homilies that Shaw would have been proud of. Women are only interested in men for foreplay and taxes he said with barely a wink. Or something like that. I know I laughed. And equally I laughed at the nerdish son in law (excellent portrayal from Joshua Thompson) and the languid publisher of Roger Scales. Mr Scales, in a welcome return to the Rep, oozed obligatory decadence and the malapropisms of Mr Thompson, toblerone instead of testosterone, tick boxed his character. When he told his wife that he mounted her on a pedestal only he, in the context of this play, mistook the meaning.

So thanks to the performers, especially the divine Miss Goss, and Julie Foster’s generally sharp direction it was not a wasted evening. I didn’t like the clich├ęd ending as, beginning to sound like the script, I could see it coming and manfully swallowed it. But I did like Molly River’s feminist student plea for equality. Whoever wields the gun, male or female, do the decent thing and get down on the floor. That made me laugh, as much as anything in this play. But its feminist polemics, words subverting drama, never really drew me in. And all good plays, comedy or tragedy, do. Roy Hall

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