Imagine if you had been treated as a second class citizen for a long time. Well, in reality not even second class, more like someone who is dehumanized and really only about to make others look better. Now imagine that this dehumanization had been going on for over 400 years. Welcome the the world of Shakespearean women in Whit Hertford’s new play DÓTTIR at the Courtyard Theatre, Hoxton.
In a bare, empty room, six women are lying around. They are all dressed very similarly – trousers, loose fitting shirt and a head covering that leaves only their faces exposed. Oh yes, and they are all handcuffed. These women are, it turns out, all people from Shakespeare’s plays. There is of Ophelia (Haeleigh Royall Hertford), Desdemona (Cheska Hill-Wood), Jessica (Rea Mole), Cordelia (Aimee Cassettari), Lavinia (Phoebe Stapleton), Kate the Curst (Rachael Black). They have obviously been together a long time and fully accept and abide by the rules of their, for want of a better word, ‘home’ as well as the all-powerful man that watches and rules over them. Suddenly and quite violently, a new woman (Tanya Reynolds) joins the group. There is something different about her. For a start, unlike the others, she does not have and is only known as the ‘Jailer’s Daughter’. More importantly, she does not really understand why she is in this place and is not willing to meekly accept the things around her, leading her to think the unthinkable and just maybe change the fate of herself and those around her.
DÓTTIR is a really intense play from the start – be prepared for surprises before you even get into the auditorium – to the emotional end. I have seen enough Shakespeare to recognise most of the characters a individuals. Whit – who also directs the production – has really taken things a stage further and really delved into the ladies themselves. As I’ve said before, I really think Shakespeare wrote badly for women. No doubt this was a due to the prevailing conditions of his time but when you see seven female characters all united by being a dominated daughter raised by a single father and then being punished for challenging a panicking patriarchy through their ability to withstand objectification with unending resolve and enduring compassion, you can’t help but wonder if there is more to Shakespeare’s treatment of the female sex than initially meets the eye.
The direction uses the surprisingly large space of the Courtyard stage to great effect, allowing the actresses to move around each other nicely but still giving the overall sense of confinement that the place ultimately is. Clever use of lighting, provides zoned areas – such as the ‘confessional’ which all helps reinforce the idea of the ladies captivity. The acting itself was pretty slick at times and the actresses work extremely well and in a confident manner with each other – displaying all of the emotions and interactions that develop over time amongst such a close-knitted group of people. The only issue with me was that I felt the play was a bit too long. Although I was hooked all the way through I do think that at times there was some unnecessary repetition of ideas and that we could have got to the ending slightly quicker. However, I am no playwright and as the play kept my attention throughout, this is really a minor point.
All told, DÓTTIR is a really interesting play that without using a sledgehammer, makes the audience re-examine our greatest playwright and his attitudes to the ‘fairer sex’ and raises the question of whether some or all of the ideas and attitudes often displayed by Shakespeare in his productions are still prevalent today – unfortunately in many cases I think they are – and Whit and the production should be applauded for raising the issue in a very interesting and thought provoking way. Once again, the power of theatre to make the audience think is demonstrated superbly.
Review by Terry Eastham
Company: Riot Act
Writer: Whit Hertford
Director: Whit Hertford
For four hundred years the men have had their say. Now it’s her turn.
Ophelia, Desdemona, Jessica, Cordelia, Lavinia, Kate the Curst and Jailer’s Daughter.
“Women have served all these centuries as looking glasses possessing the magic and delicious power of reflecting the figure of man at twice its natural size…Suppose, for instance, that men were only represented in literature as the lovers of women, and were never the friends of men, soldiers, thinkers, dreamers; how few parts in the plays of Shakespeare.. literature would be incredibly impoverished, as indeed literature is impoverished beyond our counting by the doors that have been shut upon women.” Virginia Woolf, A Room of One’s Own
A new play about the rejection and savage strength of the female voice through the roots of the iconic daughters of Shakespeare. Written and directed by Whit Hertford. Produced by Riot Act
Riot Act’s DÓTTIR – production images by Spencer Trim-West
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