Women Beware Women

Tue 20th – Thu 22nd November 2012

reviews

Francesca Petrizzo

at 00:27 on 21st Nov 2012

2agrees

0disagrees

Very rarely have I seen a show as disjointed as this one: where a great cast saves an otherwise sloppy and careless production. St Hilda’s Drama Society brings to the stage Thomas Middleton’s cruelly fun tragedy with a frustrating mixture of splendid performances, good ideas, but overall slapdash execution.

The actors are worth the ticket’s price, showing admirable cohesion, chemistry, and synchrony: for an ensemble sixteen strong, it’s truly remarkable how they manage to breathe life into the unfamiliar words with their quick repartees, support each other through the intricacies of a plot based on intrigue and treason, and set off to perfection each other’s strengths.

As the cuckolded, foolish husband Leontio, Dominic O’Keefe holds the stage with a delightfully camp and entertaining performance; Felix Lehane’s Fabritio, a mindless father, is his worthy mate in providing the tragedy’s much needed light relief. Crueler laughs are granted by Jonnie Griffiths’ Ward and his servant Sordido (Ramsay Gray Stephens), a perfectly matched duo of a self-centred and brainless master and his lustful, animalistic servant.

David Meijers’ Duke is a sinister apparition in an already dark piece: he is manic, predatory, uncomfortably sleazy and yet oddly childish, giving a complex and arresting rendition of what might otherwise have been a one-dimensional villain. Bianca (Katherine Stocker) stands out in her transformation from innocent to fallen according to the bitter sexual politics of the play: she carries her role with true emotion and a compelling wit.

Tashmim Miah is splendid as Guardiano: she moves among the treacheries she weaves with the easy and disdainful demeanour of the born chessmaster. She is, indeed, the perfect ally in treason for the play’s lead, and most complex character: Livia, first motor of every plot, beautifully rendered by Callyane Desroches. Her Livia has the superior attitude of one who knows the game she’s playing, but whose own heart betrays her; the actress believably and elegantly portrays the downfall of one whose superficial cynicism belies a capacity for fierce love. As Stocker with her Bianca, Desroches perfectly embodies the play’s strongest point: a complex reflection on the relationship between sexes, and their ongoing war. As Bianca declares, women may very well be their own worst enemies, but much is to blame on the roles in which they are imprisoned, and which the cast so well render.

With such a strong group of performers, it would be easy for the play to be a success; that it fails to do so is due to an infuriatingly poor rendition of set, changes of scene, and light effects.

The stage’s simple design, with a white curtain as backdrop and blocks at the sides, would come across as effectively uncluttered; were it not that pieces of the curtain are grimy, and others so creased and wrinkled that, when they are once used to show the characters’ shadows in a nicely dramatic background to the scene, their state prevents us from seeing the actors properly. The side blocks are cardboard boxes, badly taped, and still clearly showing their original use in writings and logos it would have taken ten minutes and a can of paint to erase. The overall aesthetics of the costumes, composed of lavish art deco pieces and a bizarre but compelling style of makeup, are ruined by the random use of completely different and jarring elements, such as Bianca’s distractingly cheerful corset, whose floral print is entirely at odds with the rest of the costumes’ stark colours and designs. And Isabella (Alice Gray) cannot be happy about wearing shoes at least a size too big, which force her to clunk around on stage at constant risk to her balance.

The set’s space is used inefficiently: scene changes are badly choreographed, and they take a long time for very simple actions. Nor are they helped by the lights, which have the annoying habit of changing haphazardly every two minutes, for no apparent reason, and yet somehow always succeed in leaving some major character in unintended darkness. The soundscape would be great, evocative and appropriate, were it not that it never quite seems to come up on cue, and when it does it’s often loud enough to drown out the actors’ voices.

A further problem comes from a few very odd and dishearteningly unsuccessful directorial choices: the play begins with an unscripted, silent, awkward scene of marriage, which regales us with three light colour changes in one and a half minutes; when the script clearly calls for chess, Livia and the Mother (a very good Kaiya Stone) bravely soldier on through miming the game over an empty space filled only by a blinding floor light; as Bianca desperately tries to escape the Duke she weaves her way through motionless characters covered in sheets, which falling fill up the already scant space, and force Guardiano and Livia to daintily pick their way across the stage and almost make the Duke himself fall.

'Women Beware Women' is worth watching, given the cutting quality of the writing and the excellent turn of its cast; but one would wish the production crew to take note that there is much, in set and tech, to be improved. The play, and the cast, deserve it.

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