Is there such a thing as feminist theatre?

// 15 August 2008

Don’t worry, I’m not going to ask you to write an essay about it (though I might get my third years to do so next semester), but I’ve seen two very contrasting plays this week with lots of meat for a feminist critique.

Last night I saw The Female of the Species by Joanna Murray-Smith, starring Dame Eileen Atkins, Anna Maxwell Martin and Sophie Thompson. It’s loosely based on Germaine Greer being held hostage in her own home (and unsurprisingly Greer isn’t all that keen on a traumatic event being used as the starting point of a satire), so there are lots of gags about celebrity feminism, being a “thinker” and a “provocateur” rather than a “life coach”; covering the same old hackneyed ground (albeit in a comic, light-handed way) about women wanting real men, not feminised ones, and feminism being started by ugly women who couldn’t get husbands; and crashing towards the denouement with the declaration that “men aren’t the enemy – old feminists are!” It’s worth a look, just for the food for thought, but don’t expect anything groundbreaking.

On Tuesday, I saw Rebecca Lenkiewicz’s new play, Her Naked Skin , at the National. It was a hell of an evening – a lengthy play and emotionally draining, set as it is in 1913 amidst suffragette activity. I shan’t give away any plot spoilers, but this is the era of the cat and mouse act, and I spent much of the second act feeling entirely emotionally drained and wondering if I’d ever have been brave enough to do what those women did had I been in the same situation.

If you’ve seen either of the plays, I’d be interested to know what you think of them (but please mark your comments with spoiler warnings if necessary!).

Comments From You

harpymarx // Posted 15 August 2008 at 9:56 am

I saw Her Naked Skin last weekend (and wrote my own review on my blog) and thought it was very good but I have to say that I didn’t think Eve was as a well developed character like Celia. We saw interactions between Celia and husband but what about Eve….

In some ways I saw Eve as a parallel with the whole of the Suffragette movement where the privileged Pankhursts’ along with other privileged women are remembered and at the forefront of the history but what about many of the working class women activists who have been rendered invisible and anonymous by history? Very little trace is left.

Many of these women were also trade unionists who battled tirelessly and courageously within the labour movement while campaigning for the vote.

Lets remember their valuable and brave contribution at a time when they were up against hostility and rampant misogyny.

orlando // Posted 16 August 2008 at 9:37 am

I did a bit of a scan of reviews of The Female of the Species, and I was pleased and, frankly, surprised to find that most of them were clear that the play had nothing to say about feminism because the presentation of it was just a caricature. They didn’t see this as a flaw, mind you, just pointed out that it was really about things like motherhood and authorship. I was impressed that the average reviewer wasn’t conned, the way they were by Oleanna, for example.

Carrie // Posted 16 August 2008 at 10:33 am

I thought the ideas about motherhood were quite interesting, if presented in a rather monolithic, stereotypical way…

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