Saturday, September 26, 2015
Playhouse Creatures (Bruiser Theatre Company, touring until 16 Oct)
No longer did young boys have to play female characters. Instead old plays were adapted and new plays created to take advantage of female participation … and the female form. Dressing up in men’s breeches showed off shapely legs accompanied with increasingly risqué dialogue and sexual objectification.
Playhouse Creatures is a 1993 play by April De Angelis which examines the world of 17th century theatre from the perspective of pioneer actresses working in “the den of defilement, the pit of pestilence”.
Jo Donnelly plays Mrs Betterton, an experienced actress keen to coach new talent in the ways of the theatre. She spent years supporting her actor husband before getting the opportunity to tread the boards herself. London audiences, however, want to leer at younger actresses and she is now exiting stage left towards the twilight of her career.
Mrs Farley (Amy Molloy) is a prim preacher’s daughter and applies her classical education to her new wilder life in the theatre before a bump in her career path changes her fate. Normally the centre of attention in recent local productions, Roisin Gallagher’s portrayal of Mrs Marshall has to take a back seat and is overshadowed in the script by Mrs Betterton and Nell Gwyn.
Part soap opera, part gender equality lesson, the actresses push for further rights and seek to be shareholders in the Playhouse company while confronting the harsh realities of their profession.
If you come to the play cold, it takes the first ten minutes of De Angelis’ play before the various scenes reveal a plot. Understanding wasn’t always assisted by Matthew Reeve’s crashing and chaotic soundtrack that accompanies much of the action and at times threatens to drown out some dialogue.
Expect heaving bosoms, Cockney accents, dramatic dying, superb soliloquies, and ancient vulgarities in this oddly-written play that fails to lace up as tight as its corset costumes despite the good choreography, Lisa May’s direction and important history.
Bruiser Theatre Company’s production has been running in The MAC this week (finishes Saturday 26) and tours around regional theatres until mid-October. Full details of dates and venues can be found on Bruiser’s website.