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Womans (Like Romans, but with a "W"). Scratchworks. Riverhead Theatre Louth. 30 September 2021.


Womans (Like Romans, but with a "W")

Scratchworks Theatre

Louth Riverhead Theatre

September 30 2021

Since theatres re-opened, we have been privileged to see the return to the stage of many companies. Tonight marked the return of Scratchworks Theatre Company to the touring circuit and it was joyful. Three women recreated ancient Rome (Wome?)in all its majesty and glory in a black box studio to a small but appreciative audience. Alice Higginson Clarke, Sian Keen and Laura Doble have created a unique cross between 'Horrible Histories' and Gloria Steinem. The cliche goes that well-behaved women seldom make history and they gloriously explore the notion. Set in Ancient Rome during 44BC, Leta has been declared a traitor by the Senate. Her antics have made ripples that threaten the patriarchy and MUST be dealt with. Her punishment is "Damnatio Memoriae" - her story is subject to erasure. Not the band - though Leta should be treated with "A Little Respect". She is to be written out of history, as so many women have been down the years.

Her companions are a pair or over-eager muses, Polyhmnea and Melpomne or Polly and Mel, who have their own quest to sit on Mount Olympus as a result of their deeds assisting Leta as she rebels against the Republic. There is no mythical, or legendary status for a woman like Leta, instead she crawls through sewers and appears to invent the parachute whilst fleeing from the centurions hot on her heels.

This company are adept at recreating scenes with the simplest of props and their clowning skills are evident from the outset. A simple black bo is transformed with only a coupe of bedsheets, hula hoops, brushes, a plinth and a guitar. There is music, song, dance and physical theatre in this performance and above all, there is humour. The three actors know how to sell a gag, even a bad one, through physical expression. The audience are willing to participate in the silliest of COVD-friendly audience participation and they even persuaded one member on the front row to join them on stage to recreate a contest at the Colosseum.

The story, a little chaotic at times, nevertheless draws back a curtain on a problem of the way in which history is written. Men get the last word. Therefore, it is ironic that the reviewer here should be male, but at least I am sympathetic to the cause. I would like to quote the aforementioned Gloria Steinem who said, "The first problem for all of us, men and women, is not to learn, but to unlearn" annd that is what this play helps its audience to do, to unlearn who decides what is history and whose stories are recorded and recounted.

I loved the silliness of this project, its charm lays in the way it embraces the team's pound shop historiography. With ridiculous faux latin names, we meet the three-headed beast that is the all-male Senate and three acting as one demonstrate the way in which masculinity has closed it ranks to protect the male legends. Nevertheless, the show does not force feed feminism to the audience. It gently pokes fun at the stories we have had drilled into our subconscious as we even get a moment that recalls "I am Spartacus!" (though possibly more "I am Brian!"), as each declares that they are Leta.

The music wrtten and created by Hanora Kamen with the company, feeds the piece extremely well and the three voices blend harmonies exquisitely, but the audience is so wrapped up in the storytelling that they could indeed miss the musical mastery. he guitar is woven into a few group numbers and there is also some a capella singing too. I enjoyed the breadth of talent displayed by the cast with such ease.


To return to the stage after nearly two years and to do so with such skill, precision and gusto is admirable. If these women felt rusty in bringing their craft to stage, Olympus help me when they really hit their stride!


I know I have over-used the references to Gloria Steinem but I want to finish with one final quote that I feel should be taken on board as a touring motto for this production, whilst seeking to unveil the concept of erasure:


"We are the women our parents warned us against, and we are proud" and Scratchworks Theatre Company really should be proud.

Cast


Annabella/Leta - Alice Higginson-Clarke

Polyhymnea - Sian Keen

Melpomene - Laura Doble


Music written & created by the company with Hanora Kamen

Andy Evans

1 October 2021

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