Feminism is for life, not just for Christmas

ADC Cambridge cambridge students Cambridge University Corpus Playroom Feminism review Tab the tab Theatre

Fresh from a run at OSO Arts Centre and about to go on to London’s Theatre503 and the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, this one-woman show stars the brilliant Ella Duffy in a series of performances that give voices to the previously-obscured wives throughout history, literature and mythology.

I loved Carol Ann Duffy’s sequence of poems, ‘The World’s Wife’, on which this show is based, and I was very impressed at the skilful combination of poetry into the performance. ‘Wife’ connects the experience of women across time, exploring what it means to be a woman in the tales that are all too often dominated by men.

Photo Credit: Jack Needham

The set was a Cath Kidston heaven: complete with a red and white spotted tablecloth, floral dresses and aprons, it was an accurate parody of the squeaky-clean housewife ideal that has kept so many women trapped in the kitchen. But the cutesy vibe was instantly contrasted with the first woman that Ella Duffy took on – the Devil’s Wife. Dark, sensuous and sexual, this can’t have been an easy character to perform, but Duffy’s portrayal was arresting and intimate, looking into the audience as she delivered lines with brilliant power. The physicality of her performance was stunning, with considerable portions of the show performed in silence but with Duffy using physical theatre to great effect.

Ella Duffy’s command of accents was also very impressive – she captured the voices of women from Eleanor Roosevelt to Emmeline Pankhurst to the Kray sisters, in a performance that was full of theatrical acrobatics but that was nonetheless completely convincing and genuine. The audience consisted almost completely of women, and the whole show a brilliant example of female solidarity: when Emmeline Pankhurst remarked that “women are like tea bags, you don’t know how strong they are until you put them in hot water” there was a heartening murmur of agreement, and the feminist antics of many of the characters got frequent approving laughs. We could all do with learning from the women of history, and this brilliantly-acted tour through women across time does an excellent job of teaching us about female empowerment.

Photo Credit: Jack Needham

The combination of theatrical techniques was one of the things that made the show so impressive, as it made use of poetry, verbatim and monologue, as well as physical theatre and puppetry. And all of these were used so successfully and appropriately that they never seemed too much or jarred, and actually added something to every scene in which they were used. I particularly enjoyed ‘The Husband’, a silent puppet torso that read a letter and a men’s health magazine and then started to shake with repressed tears. As he wiped his cheeks, I was genuinely touched, and this scene was a stark reminder of the consequences of the patriarchy on men as well as women.

More importantly, the show did not ignore the experience of black women, or have a white woman act out their struggles, which could easily happen in a performance solely featuring a white actress. Mrs Mandela and Michelle Obama featured in powerful recordings, staged like radio clips with the lights were lowered, making the words of these incredible women even more moving and poignant.

Behind every great man, a great woman is ready to step out into the limelight, and Robbie Taylor Hunt’s hard work as director has paid off in this brilliant feminist production. A must see for all genders: I walked away feeling genuinely empowered.