Review: Good Women, VAULT Festival

Three women dressed identically in white, pray silently while religious music plays in the background. The lights dim and the show begins. The women perform a series of coordinated, sharp movements evoking religious rituals e.g. prayer. There’s a moment of tension as the audience both figuratively and literally sit on the edge of their seats (or rather, pews), wondering if this is show is going to be an intense, serious, abstract physical theatre piece about religion. So, when Aoife Kennan, Emma Rendell and Emily Steck start confessing to the audience their latest sins, there is an audible sigh of relief among the audience, interwoven with laughter, as we collectively think ‘its okay, this is meant to be funny.’ 

We are introduced to three members of Good Women Ltd., an organisation that helps sinful women redeem themselves and become so called “good women” in the eyes of God. Kathryn Poole (Kennan), Morgan Polk (Rendell) and Madeline Craig (Steck) are competing at the 2019 Evangelical Dance Prayer-athon in the hopes to become part of Elite Angels, the premier liturgical dance troupe. When the three clashing personalities are forced to work together on a new routine for “The Sister” (Emily Carewe), tensions rise and their faith is tested.

Produced by Caroline Christie and directed by Adelaide Waldrop and Brendan Macdonald, part of new theatre company Maude, Good Women is a satirical exploration of sisterhood and religious competitiveness. Writer and performer Steck, gives a highly comedic performance in her role as Madeline, a Californian desperate to impress and make friends but with no idea of how to do so. Her facial expressions and body language elicit much laughter from the audience and it is hard not to smile as she (deliberately) stumbles through the routines. Similarly Rendell gives a strong performance as Morgan, a Canadian with a dark past and a love of moose. Although all three actors are clearly very talented comedic performers, Kennan is the star of the show. As the Newcastle born and bred Kathryn, she shines, performing tenderness and sincerity as well as comedy superbly.

The setting for Good Women is very appropriate; ominously named ‘the Pit’ (one of the many performances spaces at the VAULT Festival), the room is cave-like, with the sound of condensed water dripping down the walls. Overall the show is both funny and tender at moments (particularly when the women’s pasts are explored), with the main let down of the piece being its somewhat abrupt, anti-climactic ending. Perhaps this is just a result of time constraints; Good Women ran at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in 2018 where shows are often constricted to under an hour long. Despite this, Good Women is an utterly charming and delightful show and I look forward to what the creative team develop next.

Good Women played at the VAULTS Festival until 7 February. For more information see the VAULTS Festival website.