Article Title:At The Silo: The Women
Author or Credit:John Curry
Published on:4th November 2005 - 12:00 pm
Story ID:994
Text:The Women by Clare Boothe Luce Silo Theatre at the Auckland Concert Chamber until 12 November 2005 Times and the divorce laws might have changed but there's still so much that's contemporary about this 1930s play - the hilarious exercise scene, for example, obviously pushed buttons with the predominantly female audience (and gave Sally Stockwell one of many opportunities to astonish and delight us with her comedic movement skills). Yes, it's a very, very old story - wife discovers her husband's cheating, wife gets a divorce, wife reconciles with husband, happy ending. Of course, it used to be a story only rich women could afford, as the presence of the play's many servants keeps on reminding us. But when the story is presented with the wit, the panache and the style of this production, we are just bowled over. And my, these women work hard for the money, most of them playing at least four different characters - with Hannah Tolich, making the most dazzling display out of a chattering manicurist, next a 'difficult' child, then a Russian princess schlepping as a model and finally a cool, ambiguous (and stunning looking) hooker (though the unhelpful acoustics took their toll on this character's accent). And here one has to admit the venue's acoustics and the play's 'in the round' staging meant the rapid-fire dialogue wasn't always appreciated. It was most annoying when people across the way laughed at something we had no chance of hearing. Couldn't the opening scene at least be slowed way down if not re-staged to suit the venue? It was like being at a piece of Shakespeare there for a while. Jacque Drew had two particularly funny scenes - as a breastfeeding, cigarette smoking, ultra-relaxed mum and then as a 'perfect, excellent' robotlike secretary who turns out to be (to the audience's obvious delight) in love with the boss. Susan Brady delivered many a sage piece of 'mother's advice' as the heroine's mom (there were moments when you felt that someone from the Maxim Institute had written the dialogue) and later, as a 'countess', Brady gave Sally Stockwell a run for her money in the movement stakes with a droll drunk scene complete with runny eye make-up and flailing stole. (And yes, it must be awful - awful! - to lose that sexy, yodelling nobody you helped turn into a Hollywood star.) Anna Hutchison made a touching naif wanting to have a baby and ultimately making an oh-so-typical capitulation phone call to her hubby (complete with air kiss), while Jacqueline Nairn with her warm, mellow voice and fabulous auburn hair played more servants than they have at Buckingham Palace, most notably Ingrid, a woman wronged but sticking by her philandering husband the off-stage butler. And that's right, all the men remain firmly offstage, and though the play revolves around the women revolving around those men, this is no simplistic 'a woman needs a man to be a woman' piece of propaganda. There's far too much variety of experience on view to settle for that simple viewpoint. And so we come to the 'man-eater' Crystal Allen. The other woman. Well, Mia Blake not only had the guts to play the self-centred, hard as nails, lower class, um - person for all she's worth, she also has a voice that could be heard all over the place. As she proved with her show-stopping turn as the servant acting out her employers' final break-up scene. (Yep, she too played three characters.) Finally, the calm still eye at the centre of the storm (and the play often felt as though we were caught up in a hurricane or was it more a really vigorous spin cycle?). Playing the difficult role of the 'nice' girl, Lucy Wigmore brought sincerity, warmth and maturity to the show, providing a wonderfully satisfying anchor to a production of most rare quality. The costumes! The underwear! The movement! The ensemble work! The hairstyles (and that was just in the audience!) At the curtain call it was amazing to see only eight women appear after we had spent 2 hours 20 minutes with so many women our heads were reeling from the impact. But there were two other women present in spirit if not in body. They were Clare Boothe Luce, the sharp-as-a-well-manicured-fingernail author of this evergreen piece, and the director Katie Wolfe. Casting the piece with an astuteness showing almost biblical wisdom, Wolfe has gone on to guide the actors through the labyrinthine details with a smoothness one associates with Rolls Royce, Bollinger and Tiffanys. And she didn't shy away from or glamorise the incipient class warfare bubbling away at the edges of what is basically a rather rarified world. So, I don't know what they're doing wrong on Broadway (not Newmarket, the other one) where a recent revival of this show was a flop. Our local women have made it a hit, a huge well-manicured (jungle red anyone?) hit! Editor's note: The Women was popularised by the 1939 Hollywood movie of the play which starred, amongst others, the formidable trio of Joan Crawford, Norma Shearer and Rosalind Russell. The director was George Cukor (flamboyantly gay) and the production became a camp classic for gay men of it's day. See link below for this movie. John Curry - 4th November 2005    
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