The Female of the Species | Black Swan Theatre CompanyDeborah Kennedy and Natalie Holmwood. Photo - Gary Marsh

Laughs are aplenty in Joanna Murray-Smith’s first full length comedy, currently showing at the Playhouse Theatre for Black Swan Theatre Company. Directed by Tom Gutteridge, The Female of the Species is a witty, sassy and intelligent comedy from one of Australia’s leading playwrights.

The famed writer Margot Mason (Deborah Kennedy) is a sarcastic, self obsessed feminist, strikingly similar to Germaine Greer. As the play opens, Mason is facing a professional crisis of confidence as she struggles to write her latest book. Into Mason’s house walks Molly, (newcomer Natalie Holmwood) a university drop out who believes that Mason has ruined her life by killing her mother.

The story unfolds with sparkle and humour, as Mason’s daughter Tess (Alison Van Reeken) walks in having a breakdown after leaving her three young children home alone. It sounds tragic, but the overdramatic performance by Van Reeken is enough to bring laughter of recognition from the audience. Throughout the one and a half hour performance the audience is introduced to Tess’s husband Bryan (Matt Dyktynski), Frank the taxi driver (Tony Briggs) and Margot’s publisher Theo (Igor Sas).

Murray-Smith based the beginning of the plot on an incident in 2000 when Germaine Greer was attacked in her house in England. 19 year old student Karen Burke attacked Greer in her home and held her hostage for two hours before she was found by friends. Murray-Smith used that “image of the famous feminist cuffed and gagged by a younger woman in her beautiful country house as the starting image of The Female of the Species. Only, like many writers, I did not want my imaginings to be hamstrung by the truth.”

As with all of Murray-Smiths writing, I listened and found myself humbled by the power of her words and ability to hit the nail on the spot. Admittedly, the long wordy speeches that the actors deliver on life, humanity and (in this case) men and their foibles, lose me occasionally with their intellectual spin. Regardless, it leads to wonderfully eloquent pictures painted through the power of Murray-Smiths writing.

The outstanding set of Margot’s study area, designed by Black Swan main stage newcomer Caitlyn Ryan is impressive in its detail. Polished floorboards and inbuilt bookcases speak of quality and modest wealth. Aptly, the large painting (recreated by Marek Szyler) entitled “Judith Slaying Holofernes” by Gentileshci depicts two females about to decapitate a male with a sword. Coupled with Jon Buswell’s subtle lighting and Kingsley Reeve’s subdued sound design the technical elements were of an exceedingly high standard.

Deborah Kennedy makes her welcome return to Black Swan Theatre Company after an absence of over ten years. As Mason she is feisty, strong willed and portrays the aging egotistic writer with flair. Holmwood captures the youth and slight naivety of Molly, turning and changing her mind with every new thought the other characters say. Alison Van Reeken spent the whole time either weeping or screaming in what must be an extremely tiring performance.  

Ironically, I found that the three male characters were the weakest of the characters. Dyktynski's New Zealand accent brought its own laughs although the character of Bryan was the most pathetic, with inane lines. The character of Frank (Briggs) could be written out of the play, although Briggs delivered the now stereotypical “alpha male turned soft but wretched wife left him for ‘real male’” role with confidence. Theo (Sas) was too over the top and the product of an ending that was far too false. It was awfully farce / fairytale like and kitsch, although the very end was riotously funny.

The cast under the direction of Gutteridge managed to keep the pace of the comedy throughout the piece, moving from one ludicrous situation to another. Whilst the characters are stereotypical, the cast have injected humour and a reality to them that makes them watch-able rather than cringe worthy.

This is a new direction for Joanna Murray-Smith, and one I hope she continues with. The cast excelled at this intelligent humorous farce, and it is one of the highlights so far of the 2008 Perth theatre scene.

Black Swan Theatre Company presents
The Female of the Species
By Joanna Murray-Smith

Venue: Playhouse Theatre – 3 Pier St, Perth
Season: 21 June – 6 July 2008
Duration: Approx. 1 hour 45 minutes [no interval]
Ticket Prices: Standard $45 /Concession $40 / Students $20 /Groups 6+: $38
Bookings: BOCS Ticketing (08) 9484 1133 or

The Female of the Species is also going on tour to five regional centres in the winter of 2008:

Thursday 24 July 2008 8:00pm
Bookings: (08) 9791 1133

Saturday 26 July 2008 8:00pm
Bookings: (08) 9758 7316

Tuesday 29 July 2008 8:00pm
Bookings: (08) 9841 1661

Thursday 31 July 2008 8.00pm
Bookings: (08) 9083 1566

Saturday 2 August 2008 8:00pm
Bookings: (08) 9550 3900

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