Review: WOMANS, VAULT Festival

Travel back in time to discover the truth, or at least a potential truth, about women in Rome with Scratchworks Theatre Company’s musical comedy WOMANS (like Romans’ with a W). What starts out innocently enough as a school presentation descends into historical madness in a genuinely funny and clever show about the “wayward women of Wome,” currently playing at the VAULT Festival.

When Annabella (Alice Higginson) accidentally summons two banished Roman muses from limbo, Poly (Sian Keen) and Mel (Laura Doble) take her on a somewhat unorthodox journey to demonstrate that there was more to Roman women than cloth making alone. As the story progresses, Annabella learns that Poly and Mel were exiled for “inspirational fraud” – that is to say, being the muses of a woman, not a man – and upsetting Mark Antony and Julius Caesar in the process.

The most overwhelmingly impressive part of WOMANS is its fantastic use of props and mime. Working with just a few bed sheets, a couple of shoe brushes and some hula-hoops Higginson, Keen and Doble create the world of the play in a highly imaginative and creative way. It’s the most innovative use of a fitted sheet I’ve ever seen, as well as the best human impersonation of a fire — all credit to Keen for her smoking performance.

There are musical elements to this show that are both very special and really funny. Keen takes up the guitar and joins Higginson and Doble to sing witty songs about how the history books forgot vestal virgin Leta (also played by Higginson) and her absurd adventures dodging various Roman politicians. The cast’s coordination is impeccable and it turns out to be a show with real rhythm, even beyond the occasional use of rhyme that the characters seem to hate. There are elements of audience participation but it’s done well, plus I caught the show when a really willing and winning audience member was picked on, and unfortunately for the cast, he kind of stole the show. It’s a history lesson like no other, but there are a fair few morals to this bonkers production too, which Annabella is keen to enforce. But the main message I got from WOMANS was to ask myself what’s missing from the Wikipedia pages and history books, who’s been forgotten and what ridiculous mischief did they get up to? If this show is any indication of those forgotten histories, Rome was a lot of fun.

WOMANS is playing Vault Festival until 3 February 2019. For more information and tickets, see the VAULT Festival website.