No Place For A Woman is certainly a provocative title for a show in which the only on-stage characters are women, and – without giving everything away – had they been in a different place it might in some respects have been more dangerous for them. This was, after all, set in Poland in 1945, just prior to the liberation of that country by Allied forces. The live music (Elliott Rennie) helps create an atmosphere conducive to the play’s narrative, though the plotline itself isn’t much to write home about. It’s predictable with a capital P and doesn’t seem to provide much in the way of food for thought, supplying the audience a series of events that happened to Annie (Ruth Gemmell) and Isabella (Emma Paetz) almost as though evidence presented drily in court.
The plot is, to be fair, credible, though I am not entirely comfortable with the setting for a love triangle story with champagne and ballet with the Second World War as a backdrop. Any other setting would serve the story (with minor modifications) just as well, and the play is in danger of trivialising the actions of the Third Reich in favour of details about Isabella being selected to dance at Annie’s party and who is making love to whom.
Of course, it is incredibly hurtful for a woman to discover that her husband is having relations with another woman, and Gemmell’s Annie puts such emotions across very well. So much is described and not enough acted out – I am reminded of a production of Educating Rita I saw recently, in which one of the characters writes a most perfunctory essay about a play with apparent inherent staging difficulties.
The ‘essay’ begins and ends with, “Do it on the radio.” I have no qualms with radio plays – on the rare occasion when I have listened to one, I have always found them hugely compelling. And this play genuinely would be great for the radio, especially with the accompanying music.
Here, there is simply not enough to look at in terms of on-stage action. This is somewhat made up for in a script that has a majestic quality. It’s well constructed and achieves that rarity of providing enough information to keep the audience interested whilst not making everything clear immediately. Layers are gradually revealed, rather like a Russian doll being uncovered. An example: I’m sure there’s a metaphor in Annie’s instruction to Isabella, “Take your dress off, take it off!” suggesting an insistence on a higher form of openness now some details about Isabella that Annie wasn’t previously aware of has come to light.
This has the potential to be a captivating ‘triumph over adversity’ story but as it is, feels a tad emotionally detached, insofar as I had trouble connecting with it and sympathising with its characters. A stronger sense of danger could have been portrayed. Nonetheless, there’s a positive message in dancing on, physically and/or figuratively, regardless of what’s going on in the world. An accessible and coherent production.
Review by Chris Omaweng
‘An officer drove me up to gates and told me to wait, that it was no place for a woman.’
The wife of a commandant is throwing a party. She asks her husband for champagne. Instead he brings home a ballet dancer from the camp. An extraordinary story that explores the strength of marital love, the redemptive power of dance, and the survival of two women who live as neighbours – but are worlds apart.
Annie: Ruth Gemmell
Isabella: Emma Paetz
Director: Kate Budgen
Writer: Cordelia O’Neill
Designer: Camilla Clark
Movement Director: Lucy Cullingford
Sound Designer: Ella Wahlstrom
Lighting Designer: Sarah Readman
Music and Cello: Elliott Rennie
Dramaturg: Lauretta Barrow
Production Manager: Richard Irvine
Stage Manager: Rachel Darwood,
Producer: Philip Scott-Wallace for Small Things Theatre
Associate Producer: Audrey Thayer
Theatre503 and Small Things Theatre present
No Place For A Woman
by Cordelia O’Neill
3rd to 27th May, 2017