Review: Herstory, Gielgud Theatre

Herstory is an evening uncovering history’s overlooked women through acoustic musical tunes and lyrical poetry. From three German women who killed nazis by luring them into forests, to Mary Anning who discovered fossilised dung. Herstory offers a versatile look at random women from the past, dating as far as Adam and Eve. It gives a strong feminist message that “the egg does not chase the sperm”. This is very much a popular topic in our modern age so it is key to bring something original to this already loaded topic. But unfortunately this feminist production isn’t new or fresh and feels a lot like many other shows out there about gender equality. The first that comes to mind is Six The Musical – a retelling of the story of the six wives of Henry the VIII. The likeness to this show is merely in the concept of it, but it makes the evening feel unoriginal. Yet however familiar the show feels, it uncovers thought-provoking facts about our astounding women through the years. It’s a fringe like show that is very much in its developmental stages.

There are four actors and one signing actor on stage who commit to every moment they are portraying each strong female character. However their singing voices, which feature a lot are dainty and don’t fill the studio theatre with the power of the words they are speaking. Jamie Bell, Stefanie Bruckner, Aurora Richardson and Isabelle Woolley take on many different personas and jump smoothly between different accents and body languages. From a fighting Boudicca, to Nellie Bly and even a tyrannosaurus rex, the four women capture each personality brilliantly. However their lines sometimes fumble over each other and moments feel unrehearsed. 

The most memorable anecdote is that of Australia’s shocking death statistics, namely that one woman a week dies at the hands of either their male partner, ex partner or family member. This is in comparison to a modest one death from shark attacks a year, which everyone is nevertheless taught how to deal with. This production is filled with fascinating truths like this and they go through a range of centuries to tell their story. It’s just unfortunate that the execution of the piece does not match the intriguing story. 

The songs are composed from scratch and introduce the next woman in the story through cynical humour. It’s all performed from a keyboard, a ukulele and a guitar which creates a fun acoustic atmosphere that gets your feet tapping on your chair. I especially like the irony of the ‘nazi killers’ who sing deadly lyrics to delicate tunes. Each song is clever and explains ridiculous moments through wit and sarcasm.

Overall, Herstory is a fascinating concept discussing an undoubtedly popular topic, but these promising features don’t shine through when watching it. The energy of the actors is brilliant and I therefore look forward to seeing this production in a later stage of development when the intriguing idea matches the rocky script.

Herstory played the Gielgud Theatre  until 4 July. For more information, see the RADA website.