“It’s terribly easy to laugh at passion”
Women, Power and Politics: Then is one half of a larger programme of activities by the Tricycle looking at the role of women in power and politics to try and find an answer to the persistent under-representation of women in the corridors of power in the UK. Taking its example from last year’s The Great Game, a number of playwrights have been commissioned to create short plays from a range of perspectives and stories and performed by a large ensemble. This half looks at historical viewpoints and the other deals with modern day issues, you should note the two evenings can be enjoyed separately and do not have to be viewed in chronological order.
Directed by Indhu Rubasingham, Then features four plays The Milliner and the Weaver by Marie Jones, Handbagged by Moira Buffini, The Lioness by Rebecca Lenkiewicz and Bloody Wimmin by Lucy Kirkwood, fuller reviews of each play can be read by clicking on the links in the titles. Covering a wide range of subjects like the relationship between Queen Elizabeth II and Margaret Thatcher, the women of Greenham Common and the reign of Elizabeth I, there’s clearly a world of difference between the plays and a huge diversity in female experience throughout history, but what is striking is the similarities: in the dogged resistance to any change in the status quo no matter how discriminatory it is to enable women to participate fully in whatever process, in the conflict between the public and private personae that seem to be necessary for women to have if they are to be taken seriously.
In-between the plays which are all generally 30 minutes long, we hear verbatim accounts from female politicians, interviewed recently by Gillian Slovo: this evening features Baroness Shirley Williams, Edwina Currie, Ann Widdecombe, Jacqui Smith and Oona King talking mainly around their initial experience of entering Parliament and dealing with such a male dominated environment: Baroness Williams is the most illuminating on this, her account of pushing through a door that said MPs on it only to discover a urinal typifying an organisation ill-equipped to deal rising female participation. They are all entertaining to listen to, but Claire Cox’s Edwina Currie is just outrageous and quite possibly the best thing about the whole experience.
If you had to pick, I think Women Power and Politics: Then was the slightly better of the evenings for me. Now has a younger feel about it, but I found Then to be a more varied experience, certainly funnier and the emphasis on the parts for the older women in the ensemble was a personal delight, Niamh Cusack and Stella Gonet in particular shine out with some fabulous performances, Kika Markham is also impressive. The ensemble impresses across the board though, Claire Cox was a revelation for me and Oliver Chris and John Hollingworth also had bright spots. Rosa Maggiora set design and Matthew Eagland’s lighting is remarkably flexible, two movable walls evoking a vast range of locations with a minimum of fuss. All in all, a great night at the theatre and surprisingly universal in its treatment of the subject matter, this is society under the microscope here, not just women.