Sunday, 24 September 2017
The Female of the Species | Queensland Theatre Company
Written by Bree Hadley   
Sunday, 17 February 2008 03:57
The Female of the Species | Queensland Theatre CompanyJoanna Murray-Smith is one of Australia’s most successful playwrights, celebrated internationally for plays like Honour which portray the contemporary beneficiaries of the feminist movement – educated, confident and conflicted women whose lives and loves have become entangled with the legacy of the feminist revolution.

In The Female of the Species, Murray-Smith turns her hand to farce to provide a new take on a familiar territory and themes. Margo Mason (Carol Burns) is an academic agitator, an iconoclast, for whom fertility, marriage and family have become the fodder of feminist warfare, as, book by book, she encourages women to strike a blow against the ideological structures that shackle them to domestic drudgery. But when student Molly Rivers (Francesca Savige) strolls through her French doors one afternoon, Margo’s abortive attempts to recapture the controversy of her bestselling Cerebral Vagina are interrupted, and the feminist comes face-to-face with the consequences of the ideas – the intellectual progeny – she has set loose upon unsuspecting world.

Murray-Smith takes her inspiration from an incident in 2000 in which Germaine Greer was taken hostage by an infatuated female student. The Female of the Species latches onto “[t]he image of a famous feminist cuffed and gagged” (Murray-Smith, QTC Program), and uses it to launch into an irreverent treatment of the gender and generational tensions that roll out with three waves of feminism. Murray-Smith re-imagines the home intrusion as a moment in which a series of increasingly farcical characters – daughters, sons and students of the feminist revolution – take their chance to turn the tables on Margo, the personification of a particular brand of pop feminism to which their own lives and hopes have been held hostage.

Kate Cherry’s finely wrought production for the Queensland Theatre Company creates precisely the rollercoaster of character collisions and revelations the actors need to carry the farce to its over-the-top conclusion. Carol Burns engages instantly as the monstrous feminist forced to realign her political agitations with a more personal, introspective sensibility. Burns is well matched by the crazy camaraderie of Francesca Savige as the student Molly and Georgina Symes as the domestically frustrated daughter, as well as the accomplished stereotype and status play of Andrew Buchanan as the sensitive new son-in-law. The Female of the Species is not a play that probes psychological depths, and there were moments when the play piqued my own more post feminist politics. Nonetheless, the well-realised comic devices of the Queensland Theatre Company production, together with strong performances from the ensemble, drew riotous peals of laughter throughout, and carried the audience along with the character and cultural references pivotal to the comic force of this fast-paced farce.


Queensland Theatre Company presents
The Female of the Species
by Joanna Murray-Smith

Venue: Cremorne Theatre, QPAC
Dates: 11 Feb – 15 Mar
Further Information: www.qldtheatreco.com.au
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Comments (2)

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I saw this production last Thursday night in Brisbane (I was visiting from Sydney) and am still wondering if this production was what the playwright intended. It was a fabulous opportunity to present a bitingly intelligent satire on feminism in a post-feminism era (Margot Mason's words, not mine) instead of which it degenerated into the worst possible indulgence on behalf of the directors and actors in tipping it right over the edge. Farce is a very risky business and only works when the actors do not "play it for laughs". It is hilarious only when the actors are deadly serious, which seemed to be lost on them. Murray-Smith borrowed almost verbatim the lines and personality of the demented housewife in "Bombshells" which Caroline O[Connor captured to perfection. Sadly the actor who played the role of Tess, the daughter, alternately portrayed her as a drunkard (before she latched on to the whisky decanter), whilst at the same time attempting a poor imitation of Joanna Lumley, then throwing herself around like an epilectic monkey. The promotional picture of the character of Margot Mason was totally different to the character Burns - or the director - created, with an unflatteringly short haircut that made her look like a dyke, which Greer wasn't. this also set up different expectations for the audience before it even began. Even the title "The Female of the Species" was thinly disguised on Greer's seminal work "The Female Eunuch". If the playwright's intention was to write about Greer and her life and work, be honest about it, give it at least some semblance of credibility and tell it like it is. Don't turn all of the characters into ugly dysfuntional stereotypes. The entire cast screamed their way through the script - I was cringing with embarrassment.
Jennie Marriott , February 24, 2008
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The play was inspired by an incident that happened with Greer, and Smith admits she only used it as a starting point for her production (see program notes). She has used her own creative licence to create a wonderfully entertaining and thought-provoking piece of theatre.
Hannah , March 19, 2008

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