Wives of War

Mon 22nd – Sat 27th August 2011

reviews

Pat Massey

at 09:22 on 24th Aug 2011

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I could have done without the first five minutes. A representation of war wives' grief through dance repeats choreography to the point where 'indulgence' is a nib's stroke away from being written down and underscored. It doesn't help that the movement falls short of seamlessness.

But then the dialogue starts, and the show starts to grow into itself. We witness a series of shorts jumping from West Country Mother Courage figures to a US trade fair, all highlighting different aspects of being a war wife. Happily, the cast starts to enjoy itself. “You don't know your little backside from your even littler elbow,”, one Mrs. Thomas berates her offstage child in a role which got good laughs from the audience; a general at the trade fair brings out a 'gee, Bob' accent with panache.

However, the trade-off is that these scenes address the hardships of being a war wife, we are not affected as we should be. For example, the story of 'Jeremy's Pa's suicide' relies on the lights turning blue to indicate Something Serious, rather than any modulation in acting; ditto for a scene about receiving the 'We regret to inform you...' telegram. For the heart of the piece, we must turn to the story of Penelope, to which the show keeps returning as Penelope contends with the world over Odysseus' odds of survival. To hear the childlike lisping of Penelope expressing her envy of women “united forever with their beloved” unnerves and thus touches us. Her abuse at the hands of an alpha-dog suitor works conversely, endearing us against the actual wagers of war. Indeed, without the point being made explicit, you come away repelled by every male figure you see. A non-aggressive essentially feminist work? How refreshing... how intelligent.

The tech work deserves a mention too. There is some excellent use of sound here, from documentary-style voiceovers to recordings of Bob Hope, via the repeated use of the song 'Whispering Grass'. Me neither, before I saw this, but it makes for the sweetest ending.

Which is more impressive considering the finale epitomizes the problem I have with this show: the use of physical theatre. The last scene constitutes the protracted construction of a tent. It makes for a nice reveal. But two minutes of running between pillars stringing up ribbons, justified as art by one cast member occasionally brushing an arm across another's chest, does not substance make. Physical movement worked best when serving the acting: the ebb and flow of the cast into and out of a press mob, for example. It lacked the creativity needed to enthrall the audience on its own.

Ultimately, it is the acting which makes 'Wives of War' worth seeking. This is a cast of young up-and-comers in things theatrical.This show certainly shows their promise and merits the ticket price. Some more locales, some more dialogue, it could have hit the giddy heights of four stars. As it is:

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Alexandra Sayers

at 11:02 on 24th Aug 2011

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On walking into this new-writing production the first thing I noticed, thanks to the clever use of the pillared stage, was four women positioned on each corner of the space, pining in time and rhythm to the sound of waves. Although visually this made effective use of the space, these nameless and voiceless women did not open the show with the impact it deserved. The performance would have benefitted from opening on one of the proceeding scenes, in which Odysseus’ wife Penelope is made conspicuous through her absence, lewdly referred to by the suitors residing in her husband’s palace and made the subject of their conversation. When Penelope does appear, it becomes clear that the effect of having a husband at war brings with it a cruel and uncomfortable situation for her: by staunchly resisting all courtship with persistent suitors, she opens herself up to the violence of the males’ egotism, and lives her life in a perpetual ‘nightmare’. The character of Antonious is wonderfully portrayed, slitheringly sycophantic at first, and later brutally power-hungry in his aim to gain the throne of Ithaca.

The play really seems to come into its own, however, when the focus shifts away from the effects of war on women, and towards the universal challenges that war creates, both for the wife and the warrior. In the beginning of the production, a chest is presented on the stage, and it is unpacked in slow and meticulous detail: here a dress; next a ribbon; then a jewel, all of which are laid out around the stage, presumably as spoils of war. During the progression of the performance, these spoils are transposed onto the women and men of the piece rather than being reserved merely for objects. The characters become both active participants and pawns in the war effort. The clever gendering of the cast - four females and two males - allows for some scenes in which the men are played by women and vice versa, all convincingly acted by a strong, multi-accented cast. This disconnected, destabilising sense of gender fixity brings the emphasis towards the universal cost of war, and crucially the fragmented sense of self and other which leads to tensions within the relationships.

This is brought into startling relief at the end of the performance. Without giving too much away concerning this impressive denouement, the company perform a visually spectacular piece of physical theatre in which Penelope and Odysseus - and by extension every war-related couple, past and present - are trapped in both an emotional and a physical web of mis-communication and mis-understanding. This last scene is highly inventive and effective in creating, without any words, the complex strains that are put onto a relationship through long absence and through the change which war (effectively a third party in the marriage) brings to any relationship.

Overall, a thought-inspiring and creative piece of theatre, which would reap rich reward from tighter scene changes and a punchier opening, in order to keep the momentum of the piece moving at a rate which would complement its ideas.

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Comments

Ness Smith; 24th Aug 2011; 19:48:33

After reading both reviews on the play wives of war. I actually went to see it today and to be frank I can't understand how you were unable to see/comprehend the premise around the play, and yet your collegue did not only understand the play but actually commented/revealed some aspects which I hadn't notice myself. Also speaking from the perspective of an actress the fact that you have mentioned someone's speech impediment astounds me because clearly the cast have been chosen for their abilities not 'disabilities'.

Mike Elliott; 25th Aug 2011; 10:38:35

I thoroughly enjoyed this performance from a young and clearly talented cast. I wasn't exactly sure what to expect but was pleasantly surprised with the range of scenes, allusions to war (from a distance) and even comedy elements. I thought the dialogues were really impressive and especially the cast's mastery of accents. I would say that the a 3-star rating is a little mean - I would have given it more. The performances are such that you are completely drawn in to the spirit of the piece and 45 minutes flies by. Highly recommended.

Pat Massey; 30th Aug 2011; 16:07:49

a) I'm not sure whether it was an affected lisp or not- and thinking about it, I was going for the spirit of the word rather than its biological definition. My bad;

b) 'lisping' exemplifies (in part) how the presentation was 'childlike'- the two are commonly associated. No-one's patronizing disabled people here;

c) this post is not calling adults who lisp childish. My cleft-lipped self knows about tripping over letters. But childhood and lisping *are* associated;

d) I didn't want to analyze the play instead of talking about what worked and what didn't. A review is an opinion, not a thesis;

e) I'm not as prissy as people stumbling upon this webpage months down the line are probably thinking now. I like to be attributable, is all.

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