Five performers take turns to evoke ten different women from across history, in this whistlestop tour of untold or forgotten female stories. They have neither costumes nor props to help them - and only the long empty space between two rows of bench seats to use as their set. But we are left in no doubt that these women are both fascinating and important, and that their lives are worth celebrating.
The cast of 10 take turns to embody their chosen subjects in passionately dynamic monologues, as the other four throw interjections from the edges of the space. The range of women portrayed is wide, from Aethelflaed (queen of Mercia in the 900s) to Brenda Procter (who had a central role in the miners’ strike in the 1980s). The vignettes jump about in time, giving just enough information to establish brief facts and a strong sense of character before moving on to the next story.
The surroundings are sparse and the performers each wear a variation of a navy-blue evening gown, yet the physicality and energy of their performances make it easy to imagine them with the appropriate clothing and backdrop. Accent, posture, mannerisms and projections are all used to great effect as they bring these various women to life. It’s very entertaining to hear Princess Caraboo describe how a film of her life might play out, and Joan Clarke makes some interesting points about the importance of inclusion in the restructuring of society.
It would perhaps lend the narrative more drama - and also make the women easier to relate to - if there were more interaction between the performers, rather than summarising the characters’ lives in long solo speeches. And fitting ten separate stories into 60 minutes does mean that each one is only touched on very briefly. On the other hand, perhaps that emphasises how these women have largely been ignored by history; it certainly led me to look them up afterwards to find out more.
There is anger to be found here, but also much joy and celebration, along with an awareness that fighting the system has the potential to lead to total destruction rather than the desired utopia. As one character boldly promises: “In my bid for freedom, I will not become your oppressor.” The show wants us to be aware that there are countless other stories like these that need to be told. And it asks the difficult question of how we determine what is true, when only certain types of people have the opportunity to record history.