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The Female of the Species
AUTHOR: Joanna Murray-Smith
DIRECTOR: Chiara Hyzler
VENUE: St James Cavalier
DATES: 24-26 February 2012, 2-4, 9-11 March 2012
CAST: Polly March, Edward Mercieca, Maria Buckle, Steve Hili, Laura Best, Anthony Ellul
SUMMARY: Thirty years ago Margot Mason, pioneer of the 1970's Women's Liberation movement and fearless academic, wrote her groundbreaking work, The Cerebral Vagina. Numerous best-sellers and international adulation followed, but now she has writer's block.
As she sits in her country house struggling with a deadline, in walks Molly Rivers, student, idealist and daughter of one of Margot's most dedicated followers. Initially flattered, Margot is less pleased when Molly handcuffs her to the desk and pulls a gun . . .
What the papers said:
Hard-line feminism queried
Witty, fast-paced comedy based on real-life incident of a feminist author
Writers are funny creatures at the best of times. They have a strong desire to share their creative insights with the world at large while occasionally finding it difficult to relate to those nearest and dearest to them.
The power they can exert over the thoughts and choices of others by influencing them with strong, convincing, pithy arguments is quite remarkable as well as potentially dangerous.
Margot Mason certainly learns it at her expense in Joanna Murray-Smith’s The Female of the Species, staged over the last three weekends by Unifaun Theatre.
Celebrity feminist Margot Mason, played by a brilliant Polly March, is struggling with a bad bout of writer’s block in her secluded country home: a set designed fittingly by Romualdo Moretti; when she is visited by an ex-student of hers, Molly Rivers.
This random visit, which appears to be the impulsive act of a star-struck fan, quickly degenerates into a home invasion complete with gun, handcuffs and hostage situation as an excellent Maria Buckle portrays the slightly deranged and very scornful Molly, whose mother had given her up for adoption and then committed suicide after becoming indoctrinated by Margot Mason’s theories.
The interaction between Ms March and Ms Buckle was a pleasure to see – their dynamics and timing were spot-on; and when they were joined by Laura Best’s Tess Thornton, it became a theatrical delight.
The script’s witty, fast-paced dialogue was based on a real-life incident which occurred to feminist Germaine Greer and what Ms Murray-Smith did was to transform a potentially nasty situation into a comedic gem. She managed to make being held at gunpoint funny.
Tess, Margot’s daughter, epitomises the antithesis of what her mother has been campaigning about all these years. She is a harried housewife and mother of three, run off her feet and according to her mother “stupid for not fulfilling her full potential”.
Ms Best did a wonderful job in bringing this character to life and her expressiveness matched Ms March’s perfectly.
Taking Molly’s side, Tess encourages her to shoot her mother, because she’s “really rather mean to her”. For the greater part of the performance, the female representations of these three women and their different perspectives, allows the audience, through humour, to evaluate the validity of feminist empowerment and whether it actually leads to another form of entrapment – the blind desire to become the ultimate super-woman: to the detriment of what women really desire as individuals.
It’s just another form of conformity – sanctioned by women who firmly believe in what they are preaching.
Enter Steve Hili’s Bryan Thornton, a bumbling, well-meaning broker whose good nature is not quite matched by his dimming intellect. His concern for Tess and the children leads him to chip in with his tuppence’ worth of criticism of Margot’s behaviour; resulting in a smitten Molly and a new Tess, willing to forgo her marriage to find herself again, with Bryan’s full blessing.
Further interference by Frank, the taxi driver, played by an earnest and angry Anthony Ellul, keeps adding more mayhem to Molly’s hostage-situation; which is now really a shambles and resembles a talk-show more than a home invasion. The two men’s perspectives shed more light on what the male perspective on such hard-line ideas like Margot’s are; and further destabilise her arguments, which, as pointed out by a hurt and disillusioned Molly, were inconsistent and contradicted themselves over the 30 years of their development. Mr Hili’s and Mr Ellul’s parts, while shorter, were no less funny and rounded out the action nicely.
The arrival of Margot’s publisher, the flamboyant Theo Reynolds, portrayed in a cameo by Edward Mercieca – as always in good form, leads to a rather quick conclusion, tying up loose ends and giving the characters possibilities for new beginnings.
It was apparent that director Chiara Hyzler had a lot of fun with the script and its staging as was evident by the cleverly timed pauses, blocking and choreography. Together with her well-chosen cast, she contrived to use the acting space to the best of its potential and created a highly-enjoyable, top-quality performance.
-Andre' Delicata, The Times, 14th March 2012
THE OUTMANOEUVRING OF MARGOT
Joanna Murray-Smith’s The female of the species (Unifaun at St James) is a comedy that starts brilliantly with the audience’s being introduced to Margot Mason, a figure based loosely on Germaine Greer, who is suffering from writer’s block and is being pressed by her publisher, Theo, to come up with her new book. The writing here is funny and we get to like this popular and terribly ego-centric feminist who is very troubled by her predicament. We learn much more about her and her writings, most famous of which is a book bearing the title “The Cerebral Vagina”, when her house in a remote part of the English countryside is invaded by Molly, a former student of Margot’s, who has a pistol in her handbag and is ready to do violence to her former idol.
Molly is a deranged young woman whose life has been seriously affected by Margot’s books and teaching. Her mother, also influenced by Margot, had given the baby Molly a\way as soon as she was born, and then committed suicide. Molly herself, following Margot’s idea that a woman aspiring to be a successful writer must stay away from bearing and bringing up children had had herself sterilised only to discover that Margot thought she had no talent.
Things become more farcical and go on being farcical, with the arrival of Margot’s daughter Tess who is married and has three young children, thus earning Margot’s great disapproval. Tess and Molly find they have something important in common, their strong disapproval of Margot who by now has been padlocked to her desk and is now subjected to the two women’s concerted attacks which, however, she goes on repelling with spirit. The farcical atmosphere is increased when Tess’s husband Bryan comes in, followed after some time by Frank, the taxi-driver who has driven Tess to her mother’s house and who feels very hurt by Tess’s indifference to the long tale he has told her about his wife’s ill treatment of him. The last ingredient of the farcical soup is Theo, Margot’s publisher, who is brought in mainly because he helps Tess solve the mystery of her paternity – Margot herself does not know who the father was.
The Female of the Species is in one very long act, and by the end I felt I had had enough of the spate of speeches produced by everyone in defence of their views in spite of farcical business concerning who is holding the gun from one moment to the next.. Even Margot’s not very convincing conversion to a sort of anti-feminism and her decision to write a book called “The Vulnerable Vagina” makes little impact, for at the end the strands in the plot are hastily knitted up by the author.
The play is directed by Chiara Hyzler who, while keeping the action moving, makes the cardinal mistake of directing Maria Buckle (Molly), Laura Best (Tess), Anthony Ellul (Frank) and Steve Hili (Bryan) to go somewhat over the top in their comical characterizations. Polly March in the main role of Margot and Edward Mercieca in the minor role of Theo never make this mistake and as a result the former in particular with her straightforward interpretation plus her mastery of comic timing allows the character’s absurd conviction of her own near-infallibility and embarrassment as she deals with the problems she is facing, to emerge very strongly. March’s performance must rank with her best technical achievements. Her attempt to overcome the handicap of her padlocked arms was an excellent example of comedy produced by entirely naturalistic acting.
Buckle’s Molly comes out somewhat unevenly as a characterization. She starts off very well but the gradual revelation of her mental instability sometimes suggests a performance not entirely integrated with the character, and many lines sound as if there is no thought informing them. What she does have in abundance is physical energy; she uses the stage space very skilfully.
Laura Best’s Tess is an angry young woman who has had enough of the domestic life she has been leading for some years. At one point she also voices unhesitatingly her desire for a vigorous sexual life, one she has not been having with her husband. The character’s core is certainly there, but the performance certainly needs some toning down in places.
Of the men, Hili’s Bryan is least satisfactory, coming out as a smiling boob and little else. Anthony Ellul’s Frank, on the other hand, comes out strongly as the husband who has allowed his feminist wife to be very much the minor partner in the marriage, and is now determined to be a brutal macho. He could very wisely have done without his glaring and bulging eyes early in the scene where he reminded me too much of a Capitan Furioso in commedia dell’arte, but he certainly did much to dispel the ennui that had been gathering during Hili’s previous scene.
Mercieca’s Theo is not much of a part, but Mercieca brings out the publisher’s cool personality, and his deep-seated affection for his great author, Margot, without ever going out of style.
-Paul Xuereb -The Sunday Times, 4 March 2012
NOQTLUHA? MA NOQTLUHIEX?
Noqtluha, iddecidew il-personaggi ta’ The Female of the Species, kitba tal-Awstraljana Joanna Murray-Smith, kummiedja mimlija dahq li qieghda tittella’ fit-teatru tal-Kavallier ta’ San Gakbu u li jien rajt il-Hadd, 26 ta’ Frar. U lil min iddecidew li joqtlu u fuq kollox, huma min huma?
Iddecidew li joqtlu lil Margot Mason (Polly March) kittieba feminista famuza li kienet ghaddejja minn perjodu ta’ nixfa ta’ ideat.. Tant hu hekk li kienet certa li ma kinetx se tlahhaq id-deadline ghall-pubblikazzjoni tal-ktieb gdid taghha ghax lanqas it-titlu tieghu (li jispiraha fil-kitba) ma setghet issib. F’daqqa wahda tidhol fuqha tfajla li kien jisimha Molly( Maria Buckle) li hi ma kinetx taf. It-tfajla tissuggeritilha t-titlu tal-ktieb il-gdid, appuntu The Female of the Species. Izda Molly ma marritx ghand Margot biex tghinha fil-kitba tal-ktieb. Le, marret ghandha biex toqtolha! Ghaliex? Ghax skont Molly ommha kienet wettqet suwicidju wara li kienet qrat il-ktieb Cerebral Vagina ta’ Margot. U mhux biss, imma ommha kienet taghtha ghall-addozzjoni biex ma thossiex inferjuri ghal nisa b’karriera. U Molly stess kienet sterilizzat lilha nnifisha biex ma jfixkilha xejn fid-determinazzjoni taghha li ssir kittieba rinomata bhal Margot. Biex wara li ghamlet l-operazzjoni ssir taf li Margot kienet tal-fehma li t-tfajla ma kellha ebda hila bhala kittieba. Molly takkuza lill-kittieba li kienet inkonsistenti u li l-kotba li kitbet kienu jmeru lil xulxin – fejn tghid li l-irgiel kienu mill-aghar, fejn tfahharhom, fi ktieb tghid li l-maternita kienet piz o ghoqla ghan-nisa, fi ktieb iehor qalet li m’hemm xejn isbah milli mara ssir omm, ecc, ecc, ecc. Minhabba dawn ir-ragunijiet kollha Molly kienet marret ghand Margot biex tisparalha wara li torbota ma’ mejda bil-manetti (handcuffs)
U hawn tidhol Tess (Laura Best) bint Margot. Din kienet telqet ‘il barra minn darha ghax ma felhitx iktar tissaporti l-ghajjat ta-tfal. Meta ssir taf ir-ragunijiet ta’ Molly, u minhabba li hi ukoll kienet hadet ghaliha meta ommha akkuzata li rmiet hajjietha biex issir mara tad-dar, qablet li Molly kellha toqtol lil Margot. Jasal ir-ragel imhasseb ta’ Tess, Bryan ( Steve Hili) inkwetat li martu kienet halliet lit-tfal wahidhom id-dar. Hu jsib ruhu mdahhal fl-argument u anke hu jaqbel li l-kunjata xejn ma kienet konsistenti la f’hajjitha u lanqas fil-kitba. Jitfacca x-xuffier macho tat-taxi (Anthony Ellul) li kien wassal lil Tess f’dar ommha. Irrabjat jilmenta li Tess ma kintex apprezzat l-isforz li kien ghamel meta kien artab u helu ma’ mara. U ma’ dawn kollha kien jonqos Theo (Edward Mercieca), il-pubblikatur, li nsiru nafu li kien il-missier omosesswali ta’ Tess u li , flimkien mal-ohrajn, isib hafna difetti f’Margot u f’kitbietha. Kollox jispicca b’wicc il-gid, izda, fi tmiem mhux daqshekk definit meta milli jidher kulhadd sab is-sieheb jew siehba tieghu, anke jekk dan kien ifisser il-holqien ta’ koppji godda.
U lil Margot sparawlha? Dazgur li le, anzi sahansitra nehhewlha l-manetti biex din il-kummiedja waslet ghat-tmiem felici taghha.
Hawnhekk nixtieq nifrah lill-kast kollu, fosthom lil Steve Hili li dahal fix-xoghol biex jiehu post haddiehor li kien indispost. Kull wiehed jew wahda mill-atturi kellhom il-mumenti taghhom, waqtiet li huma sfruttaw sew tant li d-dahq ma naqasx. Minix se nsemmihom b’ismijiethom ghax kollha kienu tajbin tant li d-dahq u l-pass ma naqsux minkejja li l-att wiehed kien twil hafna. L-ghazla tal-atturi li ghamlet Chiara Hyzler, id-direttrici , ghazla ta’ nies b’esperjenza u ohrajn izghar imma b’potenzjalita enormi, kienet wahda li hadmet hafna u li zammet il-kummiedja ghaddejja minn personagg ghall-iehor bla waqfien. Ghogobni s-sett ta’ Romualdo Moretti li kien kulurit, informali u komdu ghall-inkwilina li tghix fih waqt li d-disinn tad-dawl, li kien qawwi biex johloq atmosfera pozittiva, kien ta’ Chris Gatt. Il-produzzjoni kienet ta’ Unifaun Theatre Productions ta’ Adrian u Sarah Buckle.
-Joyce Guillaumier, It-Torca, 4 March 2012
pictures by Joseph A. Borg