A platform for the prominence of female characters, playwrights and issues, Women Redressed is an intriguing feminist theatre festival produced by Sheer Height Theatre. In its fourth instalment, Women Redressed seems to have taken a slightly different direction. Whilst all the plays presented in the Jermyn Street Theatre were written by female playwrights – staying true to the festival’s intentions – the plays themselves at times seem less concerned with specifically female issues, and focus on broader socio-political questions.
This observation is most relevant to the opening work. Aid Memoir by Glenda Cooper is a captivating dystopian play that conceals as much information as it reveals. We learn that the characters are stuck in a dystopian universe set in the not-too distant future. The UK has fallen from grace, is plagued by poverty, covered in refugee camps, and the subject of a charitable campaign led by its more fortunate neighbours. But why? What has happened to create this unrecognisable society? Tantalised by nuggets of information the audience is left to fill in the gaps, cleverly pointing in the direction of post-Brexit consequences, after all “what do you expect from a country that isolated itself from its neighbours?” At times this conservative approach to detail is absorbing and compelling, at others it feels frustrating. However, one hopes that these frustrations would be resolved if watching the work in its totality.
Conversely, An Audience with Margaret’s Wardrobe by Ita Fitzgerald is very clear and concise in its narrative, using warm Irish humour and characteristics to explore the unhappy issues of loss and bereavement. Colette Kelly delivers a stand out performance as the archetypal Irish “mammy”, deftly transitioning between making witty remarks and realising the permanence of her daughter’s death. As the play progresses she learns secrets about her late daughter’s life and whilst these add colour to the plot, they also confuse the message of the play, and leave the audience attempting to identify the playwright’s main focus.
This is also a key issue in Sabiha Mank’s Safe. At first it seems to be about losing a child, and then it spirals out of control covering a whole host of topics; race, depression, substance dependency, teenage relationships, memory, regret, mother daughter relationships… Whilst multifaceted storylines are admirable in their quest for intricacy and depth, when condensed into such a short excerpt they can lack cohesion and seem overdramatic.
Homefront by Rosie Macpherson is also in danger of straying from authenticity. Tilly – played by Jennifer Greenwood – continually berates her father for his absence in her childhood in a display that one could argue depicts the idiosyncratic demise of a father daughter relationship. However, Greenwood’s petulant and mocking tones are never-ending, and therefore grate upon the audience, especially due to her unrelenting lack of compassion for her father’s war induced post-traumatic stress.
Women Redressed remains an important space for female playwrights to create work in, however the results – frustratingly condensed into such a small slot – are at times messy and confused.
Women Redressed is running at Jermyn Street Theatre until April 13.