Monday, 17 September 2018

REVIEW: Women in Power at the Nuffield City Southampton


Woman in Power continues the Nuffield City Southampton opening season programming with another new work. Written in parts by seven women it is based on the Greek comedy Assembly Women by Aristophanes. The writers are poet Wendy Cope, comics Jenny Eclair, Shappi Khorsandi and Brona Titley, broadcaster Natalie Hayes, playwright Suhayla El Bushra and MP Jess Phillips. The end result is a broad rude comedy which draws from 20th century Music hall and musical theatre traditions and is set in 391BC, "or as we like to say, the present day". 

The original was written at time when the women were not allowed in the Assembly or to vote and was a topical comic criticism of the male leadership and governance . The opening acts, Act 1 "Strategy" and Act 2 "What men think" , follow the original play structure as the women plan to enter the assembly disguised as men to swing the vote by the oratory of their leader (Lydia Rose Bewley) to put women in power and then come under suspicion from their husbands for their absence from home. The later acts explore the consequences of their actions. 

The writing produces a female "A funny thing happened on the way to the forum" meets a female Max Miller and male impersonator Vesta Tilley with the innuendo replaced by explicit crude jokes. As the programme notes say the original play was full of up to the minute topical jokes mixed with knob gags and toilet humour( a gross portrayal of defecation by Alicia McKenzie) and actors with flopping fake phalluses and these elements are all retained and amplified in this up to date social commentary. Also retained is the longest word in the Greek language, a 171 letter word for a stew for no other reason than it was in the original. At times it felt it needed a stronger over arching editor to prune overlong monologues and weaker business.

The whole show is set on an impressive classically Greek style multilevel painted marble staging by Jasmine Swan littered with iconic art such as a bust of Shakespeare, a Terracotta warrior, a pineapple and male statues in pink and blue tones. This provides the entrances and exits and raised platforms which are well used by director Blanche McIntyre. 

In Act 3, "How great it will be" they set out a Utopian vision of society where equality is extended into fairness and equal wealth distribution and then an abandonment of "the shackles of monogamy" and a society where "older women get first dibs". It includes a very good "Chicago"style musical number with choreography from Elizabeth Boag. 

In Act 4, "Making it work", this equality is extended to all possessions being removed and handed out to everyone with Lisa Kerr as a husband forced to give up all his clothes and possessions in a comical music hall dance routine with a wide range of modern everyday props in a wheelbarrow! This is followed by a neat parody of David Attenborough (Anna Fordham) observing the new behaviours of an available male being harassed by a group of females with plenty of sexual allusions and a view that in this society " sex is like a public service, like the NHS". 

Disappointingly In the final Act , "Everyone in power " there are the weakest two sketches , an overlong Dame Edna style agony aunt monologue with references to Love Island and Club 18 to 80 where there is "free love and free booze" and a TV studio interview of Plato (Anne Odeke) promoting his new book Republic , "out this autumn" hinting at the emergence of a new ruling class of Philosophers. Despite the clear modern references this last Act is a weak finish with no clear conclusion , apparently again mirroring the original play which explored ideas without an outcome other than a celebratory festival. 

Overall the ninety five minutes format might have benefited from an interval after Act 2 and a stronger more biting and incisive final Act but the ensemble of six talented ladies are full of energy and fun and the bawdy raucous humour is sustained and delivered in an irreverent way. This is not a show for those who are easily offended by such humour and the no holds barred language but for those with an open broad mind it provides a highly entertaining modern recreation of how the original play might have felt to its Athenian audience.

Review by Nick Wayne 

Rating: ★★★★

Seat: Stalls B | Price of ticket: £27
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