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HerStory at Theatre N16 – Review


HerStory at Theatre N16 is a festival which celebrates women working in the theatre industry, as writers, directors and performers. The second night of this year’s festival saw six new short pieces, each varying in style, theme and content, including stories about a woman working in a top secret organisation, another suffering from insomnia and one working as a prostitute. These were followed by scene sharings from a workshop with Barbara Houseman, which took four Shakespeare scenes with women taking on some of the male roles.

Particular highlights from the evening include: Shelley Davenport’s incredibly witty Witness A, performed equally as well with a balance of humour and tears; Josephine and Matthew Couton’s fierce performances in the somewhat cryptic The Mutant Man, and the emotional intensity of Dorcas Stevens nd Kudzyani Chiwawa who ever-so-simply brought anger and sympathy to those watching the act of straightforward storytelling. Despite a few moments of comedy, it would have been nice to have seen a little bit more variation across the six performances; by the fourth piece it did all feel a little repetitive, but the quality of performances was just enough to keep it engaging.

Despite a few moments of comedy, it would have been nice to have seen a little bit more variation across the six performances; by the fourth piece it did all feel a little repetitive, but the quality of performances was just enough to keep it engaging.

Perhaps the most interesting portion of the evening was Houseman’s workshop performances. Four female actors spent the day with Houseman working on famous scenes from Shakespeare plays, in which at least one of the characters is a male. We saw women take on such roles as Othello, Hamlet, Angelo and Lord Capulet, amongst others. The gender reversal does two key things: Firstly, it brings new light to old scenes and makes revelations about character, feeling and motive; secondly, it gives women the chance to play roles that they wouldn’t traditionally be able to play. Michelle Barwood’s Hamlet was intellectual and fierce and Maggie Robson’s Lord Capulet was powerful and somewhat wicked.

The Q&A which followed these sharings raised some interesting points, particularly regarding the way Houseman and her actors perceived gender. The performers explained a need to start off with masculine stereotypes in order to tap into the male characters they were playing. One wonders how – if at all – the results would have differed had they have just played these male characters without thinking about stereotypes at all. One of the actors explained how she had to restrain from touching her hair and using overly-animated hand gestures, due to the femininity of these actions, but perhaps keeping these intrinsic socially-perceived gendered behaviours would have allowed a whole new perception of the character altogether.

With this in mind, it was perhaps The Mutant Man which was the most successful of the six pieces, for gender was sort of one and the same; presenting what seemed to be a male and female version of the same character, with virtually no differences in performance style from its male and female performers. HerStory aims to push the boundaries of women’s representation in theatre, and whilst in some ways it managed this, there are still plenty of further opportunities for women that this evening perhaps overlooked.

4 stars

Review by Joseph Winer

2016. Over 50 years ago Gloria Steinem began to change the world by speaking about women’s rights, fighting for equality and speaking her mind. But despite Steinem impacting the feminist movement and accomplishing so much the fight is still present. What are the issues that women of the XXI century face on a day to day basis? Why is abortion still a taboo subject? Why are we taken aback when we hear a woman say“I don’t want to have children”? Why are women constantly objectified? And finally have things really changed since Miss Steinem led the women’s liberation movement back in the 60’s and 70s? Those are just few of the hundreds of questions that come to mind when one talks about equality and contemporary feminism.

HERSTORY a festival of new writing aims to bring those questions to the stage by creating a platform for political discussion and giving a voice to women.

The aim of HerStory Festival is to bring diverse, bold and unapologetic stories to theatre. We believe that women are not only misrepresented in theatre but that there is also a problem with the way we talk about women. HerStory is here to change it.

Any pieces of new writing which deal with the issues of womanhood, sex, equality, feminism or tolerance. Political, thought-provoking theatre that can highlight the battle of modern feminism is what we are after!
If you are sending a play longer than 30min please bear in mind that we will choose a snippet of it to perform during the festival.

If you would like to enter your piece of writing into the festival please email our Literary Manager Nastazja Domaradzka – literary@theatren16.co.uk using HERSTORY as a subject line. Please note that we are currently not taking submissions. Please keep checking in on our website and twitter for announcements.

The festival will take place over the space of two days at Theatre N16 in Balham. Prior to which the actors, writers and directors will collaborate together during the rehearsals. There will also be a panel discussion and guest speakers from different organisations and fields.


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