More deadly than the male?

Last night, I headed over to the Whitstable Playhouse to watch The Female of the Species, in a production by the Lindley Players.  This is a play by Joanna Murray-Smith, inspired by an incident when Germaine Greer’s home was invaded by an upset student.  As it is a very new play, I wasn’t really sure what to expect, having only vaguely heard of it.  Luckily, it proved to be very good indeed.  The script is surprisingly funny, the direction was strong and the cast interpreted their varied characters well.  Certainly £9 well spent, I thought.

Central to the play is the character of Margot Mason, a feminist thinker/celebrity/writer/intellectual, who is supposed to be writing her next bestseller, but isn’t doing too well.  Her attempt at work is interrupted by a former student, who blames Mason for her problems then holds her captive at gunpoint and threatened to kill her.  As you do.  The situation is complicated by the arrival of a series of other characters – Margot’s daughter and son-in-law, a taxi driver and Margot’s publisher, who complicate an already delicate situation in a variety of unexpected ways.  Each new arrival brings a fresh perspective on the character of Margot Mason and on the positives and negatives of the feminist movement over the last several decades.  However, the play is not a debate about feminism as such, even though the characters spend a lot of time debating feminism and its effects.  It is also about relationships (particularly between mothers and daughters and between husbands and wives) and about intellectualism and academia in general.  Above all, though, it is very, very funny.

There are aspects of the plot which are absolutely preposterous (not least a final revelation which is simultaneously ridiculous, disappointing and predictable), but it doesn’t really matter.  Once you accept that Margot Mason is chained to her desk and nobody’s going to let her go, then events and characters merrily sweep you along.  I found that my sympathies switched several times (though I never managed to find myself on the same ‘side’ as Molly, the girl with the gun) as characters revealed further depths or further shallows, and was intrigued to find myself agreeing with very different viewpoints as the play progressed.  What do I feel about the place of women in today’s society, about the changing face of feminism and about the responsibilities or otherwise of academia and the intelligentsia?  I’m not sure, as I felt and thought so many different things about each issue.  I do remember noticing a few points when I laughed but nobody else did, which I suspect was a result of working in higher education – certain observations about students, academics and university life struck a chord with me yet would mean very little to most members of the audience.

The six characters were very distinctive and each was played very well, but I particularly enjoyed the performance by the actor playing Bryan, the son-in-law.  A few sandwiches short of a picnic, but not unintelligent, he was very charming in a sweet and somewhat useless sort of way.  He had many of the funniest lines, and the performance made me really warm to the character as soon as he appeared, even if none of the other characters actually thought much of him at first.

It does me good to see a non-musical play from time to time (and it really should happen more often) and this was well worth the trip.  Intelligent, funny and well-performed.  Magic.

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