UBU Spotlights Presents...A New Production

Mon 10th – Fri 14th March 2014

reviews

Marleigh Price

at 10:16 on 7th Mar 2012

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Prevent women from talking about men and what is there left to discuss? In theory, it sounds strikingly simple. UBU Spotlights took the concept behind the Bechdel Test and invited Bristol University writers to produce a series of short plays that might pass the test. From the hilarious to the disturbing, what emerged most evidently from this series of plays was just how central male figures are to our conversations as women, whether they appear as brothers, fathers, lovers, Action Man, or God himself.

The intimate setting of The Wardrobe theatre is the perfect venue for a series of plays that were mostly duologues, creating a feeling of private confession. Birds: A Triptych by Miriam Battye was immediately engaging, cleverly utilising intertwining monologues to avoid the dreaded conversation between our two protagonists. Rosie Joly and Jenny Burton complemented each other perfectly in their contrasting roles, allowing us to be drawn into their isolated worlds and leaving us eager for answers and further explanation. Elf Lyons’ The Deal also focussed on the complicated mental states of two women. Rebecca Allen’s portrayal of an alcoholic, suicidal young woman contrasted dramatically with Arabella Noortman as a spurned lover, complete with a casually stored gun, but the brevity of the play meant that the complexity of the characters couldn’t be fully explored, and the heavily loaded script left me initially struggling to ascertain what was going on.

Megan Stodel’s Discuss. provided the audience with an intimate discussion of a problem faced by most of us at some point: that of deciding which path to take in life. Madeleine Shenai was perfect as the confused and angst-ridden Mel, but I felt that the piece could have been made stronger by focussing on and developing the relationship between the two sisters, and omitting the somewhat unnecessary discourse with the careers adviser, Katie O’Leary.

In a series of plays in which men are largely excluded, female issues were quite forcibly dragged to the forefront. The desperate attempt of Nat Mayne’s protagonist Rosie – played by Hannah Horan – to justify the soft porn of lad’s mags as ‘art’ in Feng Shui? was a farcical but ultimately all-too-realistic comment on the objectification of women in our society. Disappointingly, Mayne did nothing to challenge such behaviour. While there was undoubtedly a sense of irony and light-heartedness running throughout the play, the portrayal of the objecting Laura (Katharine Bubbear) as a prudish, glasses-wearing nag, coupled with the final scene in which Rosie reluctantly allows housemate Ben (Jack Fayter) a quick grope of her breast – despite being undoubtedly comic – nevertheless gave the sense that the play was ultimately admitting defeat and conceding to the inevitability of such objectification.

As the only play written by a man, Bechdel Housewives, chose to parody the idea of the Bechdel Test by taking it to its extreme, with Matthew Radway putting his dialogue into the mouths of some of television’s most vapid women; the Desperate Housewives. Their attempts to converse on a topic that didn’t incorporate the men in their lives made for hilarious viewing, drawing gales of laughter from the audience. Though highly amusing, Radway’s piece also highlighted the point that underpins the Bechdel Test; in film and television today, the roles of women – beyond being lovers, wives and mothers – are so often ignored in the media’s portrayal of females.

An interesting and thought-provoking concept, ‘The Bechdel Test’ sparked some outstanding new writing and reminded the audience that us girls are capable of talking about more than just boys.

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Rebecca Caseby

at 10:21 on 7th Mar 2012

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When you have a minute, pick a friend and talk about anything. Anything but men. It’s not easy, but Spotlights has put this challenge to the test – the Bechdel Test, to be precise – in the form of five short plays presented at The Wardrobe Theatre. The one criterion of the Bechdel Test? The plays must include a conversation between two women that isn’t about men.

Birds: A Triptych opened with two frenzied monologues that meshed together in a conversation between child Leigh (Rosie Joly) and older woman Vivian (Jenny Burton). Miriam Battye’s writing was evidently very considered, embodied in Joly who brought just the right mix of youthful innocence and wild destruction to Leigh as a child gone awry. A brief mention of Leigh’s father crept in, but I believe deliberately avoiding discussion of this forbidden male topic would have compromised the development of Joly’s character.

Discuss. tapped into the fear of the future manifested in careers adviser Mrs Barton (Katie O’Leary), student Mel (Madeleine Shenai) and sister Tash (Lauren Orrock). This play had potential but was not executed as subtly as it could have been. The writing just didn’t really feel like it was going anywhere or pushing any boundaries. Both Shenai and Orrock brought authenticity to their northern characters with their sustained accents but ultimately Shenai conveyed a lot of teenage angst without much depth.

We were then presented with Bechdel Housewives, a witty Desperate Housewives spin-off. Of the five plays, this one was certainly the metaphorical joker of the pack. The acting was competent but the real genius lay in Matthew Radway’s scriptwriting, with some hilarious lines throughout from all the cast.

In Feng-Shui? we were dropped into a conversation between arty Rosie (Hannah Horan) and rational Laura (Katherine Bubbear) about pornography as art. The subject matter steered clear of direct discussion about men even with male actor Fayter onstage as Ben, the quintessential creepy housemate. However, the shadow of male influence still permeated the play, particularly in the lads mags props used throughout.

The final play, The Deal, was perhaps the most disappointing. The interchange between the convincingly disturbed Anita (Rebecca Allen) and a rather over-dramatic Sally (Arabella Noortman) occasionally felt rather static. Although writer Elf Lyons kept the script away from debating men, this partly seemed possible because the characters felt a little shallow and undeveloped with no back-story to delve into.

I would liked to have seen more boys in the predominantly female cast mainly because it would have really pushed the Bechdel Test to its limits. Five plays specifically not about men may seem like an exclusively female venture but I urge men and women alike to go and see them. Good writing, acting and humour can be appreciated by all and on more than one occasion I laughed so hard I almost spilt my drink. So rather than indulging in another conversation about bad boyfriends or drunken rugby lads with that friend of yours, use The Bechdel Test as an opportunity to start a different kind of conversation.

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