The Women

Ros Brennan

This story of the pampered lives and power struggles of Manhattan’s elite brings the toxicity of female friends into sharp focus.
The Women

Playwright Clare Booth Luce's The Women. Photograph by Becky Matthews.

"The women who inspired this play deserve to be smacked over the head with a meat axe and that, I flatter myself, is exactly what I smacked them with."

Playwright Clare Booth Luce famously said this about her second play, The Women, which debuted on Broadway in 1936. Some 80 years later, these words line the inside back cover of a theatre program in an unassuming, lofty warehouse space in Marrickville; a forewarning of the spiteful female characters about to storm the stage.

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Showing from 14-17 September at the Depot Theatre as part of Fringe World and directed by Alexander Andrews, The Women tells the story of the pampered lives and power struggles of Manhattan’s elite, bringing into sharp focus the toxicity of female friendships and the salacious gossip which both propels and damages them.

The Women opens with near twenty debutantes in typical 1930s garments sauntering across the stage, simultaneously calling out layer upon layer of venomous jibes until the entire space is humming. It’s a firecracker of a scene, and the audience is noticeably enthralled.

The Women continues to simmer at an elegant pace for the following two and a half hours, with a cast of 17 energetic young actresses ambitiously taking on 29 roles. As we meet the main protagonists, Mary, Sylvia, Crystal, Miriam and their entourages, the audience is drip fed elements of their interwoven lives, piecing together the lies, cheating and deceit like a game of cluedo.

Each scene brings moments of hilarity and top notch comedic timing, notably when a quick-witted Irish maid and her sidekick spend an inordinate amount of time analysing their boss’ extra marital affair, when the larger than life Countess de Lage, played by Kate Rutherford, enters the stage and laments on her troublesome love life with ‘Ah L’amour, L’amour!’, bastardising the French language with her stereotypical American twang, and when the pregnant Edith Potter, played by Sandy Sharma, waddles onto the stage waving her aperitif and expressing her disdain for child rearing.

Andrews certainly hit the mark in his use of the stage, with the minimal set comfortably shifting between a living room, a hairdresser, a department store fitting room and an exercise studio, to name just a few.

What lets this clearly talented director and cast down is ultimately a lack of rehearsal; stumbling over lines, lapsing in and out of accents and a lack of light and shade in character development which made some interactions feel a little ho-hum.

All things considered, The Women is a thoroughly enjoyable – and at times hilarious - glimpse into high society New York in the 1930s, which certainly did justice to Clare Boothe Luce’s witty dialogue and scathing commentary on rigid class structures and concepts of femininity. This small but mighty theatre company should be commended for their energy and enthusiasm, and for giving emerging actresses a chance to breathe new life into historic literature.  

Rating: 3 stars out of 5

The Women
DIRECTOR Alexander Andrews
PRODUCER Rose McClelland
EXECUTIVE PRODUCER Anna Colless
COMPOSER Owen Elsley
Edgewise Productions as part of` The Sydney Fringe Festival 2016
September 14–17 September 2016
The Depot Theatre, Marrickville​

What the stars mean?
  • Five stars: Exceptional, unforgettable, a must see
  • Four and a half stars: Excellent, definitely worth seeing
  • Four stars: Accomplished and engrossing but not the best of its kind
  • Three and a half stars: Good, clever, well made, but not brilliant
  • Three stars: Solid, enjoyable, but unremarkable or flawed
  • Two and half stars: Neither good nor bad, just adequate
  • Two stars: Not without its moments, but ultimately unsuccessful
  • One star: Awful, to be avoided
  • Zero stars: Genuinely dreadful, bad on every level

About the author

Ros Brennan is a freelance arts writer, marketer and publicist based in Sydney. For the past eight years, Ros has worked in arts marketing in various guises, including Sydney's National Art School, the 56th Venice Biennale of Art, Artsource in Western Australia and the Perth International Arts Festival. A Young Ambassador of the Museum of Contemporary Art Australia and a self-confessed culture buff, Ros regularly attends exhibitions, theatre, film and dance and believes the arts are intrinsic to a city’s cultural vitality. Her writing features in various publications, most recently as the Art Insider for Buro 247 and Art Reviewer for ArtsHub.