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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