A life-size advertisement sits as the backdrop to a completely bare stage. In big black lettering it reads: ‘COMING SOON’. These words are there to whet the audience’s appetite as they wait for the play to begin. And seemingly from nowhere the actors begin to burst forth one-by-one from the audience itself. The all-female cast makes it clear that this is a work in progress and what the audience is about to witness may never be finished. A discussion that will always be in motion and now the words ‘COMING SOON’ ring ever more loudly.

Ten Women (written and directed by Bethan Dear) is a collaborative project between Ovalhouse and Dear’s own theatre company, Jackdaw Theatre. Billed as part of the First Bites series, this is an initiative of the Ovalhouse to allow writers and companies to develop new pieces within a safe space and allows the audience to share feedback with the theatre-maker.

This production is what new work should aspire to always do. Ten Women is evocative and engaging, experimental and devised theatre at its most sincere and barefaced. Taking on subject matters of feminism, body image and the objectification of the female body is quite the cross to carry. But it is executed with humour, honesty and humility.

Sixteen actors comprise the ensemble cast that grew from the original titular ten. This ensemble functioned seamlessly like a well-oiled machine. No actor was a diva, no actor tried to lead; it was about working toward a common message as a collective. There was a bond that was evident from this piece of theatre that arose from conversations between Dear and her company partner, Amy Clamp. Dear went on to workshop this piece, based on her own experiences, with her ensemble and described it as a ‘sixteen person cutting process’.

Dear allowed her ensemble to have real input throughout the workshop process. In the form of epithetic monologues, the actors use personal opinions, memories and body issues as transitions between scenes. They recount sexual experiences, daily rituals of beauty and how they negotiate feminism. The sheer variety of tales shows that feminism and womanhood is no zero-sum game. Women of all backgrounds make up the ensemble cast; their tales highlight their commonalities, and yet it is the differences that make the piece so inspiring and real. This multiplicative nature of feminism is celebrated.

Ten Women is visceral and breathtaking storytelling with an incredible cast of women. This is a play that is necessary, and as a work in progress, will only benefit from continued sharing and engagement with all sorts of communities in the future.

Ten Women played at Ovalhouse. For more information see the Ovalhouse website.