In 1970, arch feminist Germaine Greer posed a challenge to patriarchal society with the publication of her book, The Female Eunuch, still considered to be one of the most important texts published on feminism and its struggle against a society with laws and social constructs designed to keep women oppressed and subjugated to male desires.
Greer proposed a radical, but not original concept, that patriarchal societies prevented women from exercising their inalienable right to invent themselves and that the nuclear family represses women sexually, robs them of their agency and renders them eunuchs.
The four married women in writer Christina Comencini’s two-act play Two Rounds offer up a tragi-comic version of how they restrict their own desires and ambitions to succumb to male domination in 1960s Italy. These long-term friends, who represent the Roman version of middle-class housewives, meet every Thursday to play a game of cards, seemingly it’s an afternoon of liberation from their marital chores, except their conversation invariably turns to their husbands and the limitations of married life. Director Aida Rocci has created a seamless flow of conversation that allows each character’s plight to be expressed as if it were part of a full orchestra, each having its own section and beautifully played.
Gabriella (Flora Sowerby), a promising concert pianist, regrets forsaking her career for marriage and child-rearing; Sofia (Saria Steyl) rages against her married lover who’s cast her aside and returned to his wife; and Claudia (Natalie Cutler) whose greatest joy is caring for her three children, accepts her husband has sexual relations with other women. It is only the pregnant Beatrice (Daria Mazzocchio) who looks forward to married life and speaks tenderly about her partner.
In the play’s second act, Two Rounds jumps three decades to the 1990s, with the same four actors playing the daughters of the women we first meet in the Sixties.
Career-wise, the four daughters have taken advantage of a more modern-thinking Italy that no longer treats women like social pariahs if they choose to combine their professional life with child-rearing, or if they choose not to have children at all. And the Nineties Roman male seems to have lost some of his status, no longer a dominating force, nor the solitary breadwinner, although his career-driven wife is still the primary caregiver who keeps the home fires burning and a lasagne in the oven.
It doesn’t seem like much happens but there is so much to enjoy in this play. The sharp wit each character uses to describe her marital relationship is filled with truth and regret about the devaluing of women in Italian society. The women’s clothes are well-researched (Evelien Van Camp) and bring the viewer straight back to Sixties Rome and later to the more sedate Nineties.
The set design (Evelien Van Camp) strongly heralds the importance of La Famiglia as a central concept of every human life. The set’s entire back wall is replete with black and white photos of traditional family gatherings: children on holiday with parents and grandparents; family dinners with a score of relatives raising their wine glasses; everyone together, happy and smiling for the camera. And the music transports the audience into the centre of a thriving Italian city, with familiar English and American rock songs, recorded in Italian (Hattie North).
Two Rounds is not a feminist play. The four women bemoan and complain about their place in society, first as mothers, then as their daughters, but there is no sense they’d be willing to march on Rome or do battle with the injustices of an Italian legal system.
They are middle-class women with bourgeois attitudes, enjoying the comforts of modern-day Italy and free from financial hardships. The fight for equal rights and equal pay will be fought by their radical sisters, who will march for justice and risk jail sentences.
But oh, how we enjoy watching the women in Two Rounds as they rail against the patriarchy and the playing hand life has dealt them.
Review by Loretta Monaco
Italy, 1960s. Claudia, Gabriella, Sofia, and Beatrice meet every week to play cards, discuss their marriages, and shuffle the deck of life. Fast forward thirty years, their daughters gather after a funeral, and the cycle repeats. But has anything changed?
A JERMYN STREET THEATRE AND ASLANT THEATRE COMPANY CO-PRODUCTION
BY CRISTINA COMENCINI.
TRANSLATED BY AIDA ROCCI.
DIRECTED BY AIDA ROCCI.
Natalie Cutler – CLAUDIA / CECILIA
Daria Mazzocchio – BEATRICE / GIULIA
Flora Sowerby – GABRIELLA / SARA
Cristina Comencini – WRITER
Aida Rocci – DIRECTOR
Antonia Georgieva – PRODUCER
Evelien Van Camp – SET & COSTUME DESIGNER
Han Sayles – LIGHTING DESIGNER
Hattie North – SOUND DESIGNER
Phoebe Hyder – MOVEMENT DIRECTOR
Aida Rocci, Tessa Nelson, Paul Hilliar – TRANSLATORS
Frederick Zennor – ASSISTANT PRODUCER
Heather Smith – STAGE MANAGER
7 FEBRUARY – 9 FEBRUARY 2024