Joanna Murray-Smith’s The Female of the Species is zany romp through the shifting politics of feminism. A conceited writer is held hostage in her mansion by a former student, while her rhetoric is placed under interrogation. Hilarity ensues.
The college crowd audience were immensely entertained by the opening night performance I watched. At times, some of the dialogue was lost under the crowd’s laughter. A few nerves aside, most of the actors possessed great comedic timing. This was essential for this witty play, where the gags rely on a solid knowledge of feminist literature and theory.
Fiona Gunn was a highlight as the self-aggrandising Margot Mason. Her choice of accent was spot-on, capturing precisely the affected manner of speaking adopted by many Australian intellectuals. She demonstrated superb comic timing in her reactions to the craziness around her. However, at times the character was rendered a little one-dimensional by playing up the comedy at the expense of genuine emotion – for example, when interacting with her daughter Tess. While many of the lines are designed to be funny, and rightly so, there was little sense of a mother-daughter relationship that extended outside the timeframe of the play.
Yvette Dal Pozzo was likeable as Molly, bringing a grandmotherly sweetness to the hostage-taking role. Pozzo portrayed Molly as a naïve and kind girl out of her depth, somewhere between a Disney Princess and a fierce kitten. While this choice was endearing, it rendered her decision to take Margot hostage and attempt to murder her fairly implausible. Within the script, one of the most compelling elements of Molly’s character is the juxtaposition between her unfailing politeness and violent intentions. It may have been more interesting to explore this dynamic, and how Molly’s own sense of righteousness leads her to this situation without compromising her image of herself as a good person.
Al De Steiger was loveable as the confused Bryan, bringing an awkward charm to the role, and Lachie Chomley was excellent as the swaggering, working class Frank. Bec Szoka amused as Tess, delivering her accusations towards her mother scathingly, and was plausible as the exhausted and apathetic mother of three.
Amesh Perera’s Theo was obviously highly entertaining to the college crowd and his friends. However, it was a largely caricatured performance that reduced the character down to his homosexuality and stereotypical effeminacy. This portrayal of homosexuality is becoming increasingly tired and outdated. While Theo is written as flamboyant, and elements of his extravagant nature are ripe for comedy, it is advisable that this does not become his entire characterisation. It’s important to fully flesh every character out beyond their sexual identity.
The set, designed by Bridget Lea, was stunningly simple. The neatly stacked bookshelves lining the walls wonderfully evoked a writer’s den. Each element of the set was perfectly balanced between aesthetics and practicality. The sumptuous armchair and central desk revealed Margot’s opulence and pretentiousness, while the action revolved around these key pieces of furniture.
Though Katy Maudlin’s direction amplified the comedy, it often came at the cost of plausibility. The humour in a play can come from watching people we recognise from real life in ridiculous situations. The conceited writer, the overworked mother, and the boring husband with a heart of gold are all tropes that could have been more deeply explored, combining both humour and relatability. Another small gripe with the direction is that the actors were not asked to remove their nail polish or jewellery before appearing on stage. It greatly disrupted the reality of the play when Margot Mason, wearer of blouses and slacks in her elegant mansion, sported garish chipped nail polish and a fashion ring. Blocking could also have been significantly tightened, as many of the actors were lost as to how to use the space. The solitary armchair seemed at times to be involved in a constant game of musical chairs with the cast. Sometimes the decision not to move, and remain still, can be as powerful as movement.
Overall, this was a fluffy piece of entertainment, designed to amuse family and friends. For a fun night out, it’s worthwhile. However, those seeking something a bit more substantial should look elsewhere.
Trinity College Dramatic Society’s production of The Female of the Species played in the Guild Theatre, Union House, from September 9-12.