Review by Rosie Holmes
What do the movies Clueless, 10 Things I Hate About You and She’s the Man all have in common? Apart from the fact they are some my personal favourites, they are all based upon or inspired by the works of William Shakespeare. Likewise, SHE also takes inspiration from Shakespeare and his famous ‘Seven Ages of Man’ speech in As You Like It. Comprised of 7 short plays, SHE examines the stories of 14 different women in a funny and engaging way, across the seven ages.
Written by Anthony Clark, originally for MA directing students at Drama Centre, Central Saint Martins, SHE is playing at Tara theatre in Earlsfield - a space with community at its heart and an aim to explore the world through a South Asian lens. The play allows for some interesting directorial choices and it is wonderful to see how a variety of directors have differently handled the 7 short plays.
Having read briefly about this new piece, I was intrigued by how a two-hander play would achieve its aims of exploring the span of a womans life from a “mewling” infant to old age. Starring Chenise Lynette and Safeena Ladha, all seven ages of womanhood here are explored from the viewpoint of two women in their twenties. We see mother and aunt bicker whilst the baby, (the first age) screams in the background while another scene sees two drama students rehearse a scene in which they play elderly women (the seventh age) suffering with dementia. By using the same aged women throughout we see a consistency to the piece, and the idea that all women have innate similarities, despite their class, age or lived experience.
I was worried that by examining so many different characters might dilute their stories somewhat, thus not fully being able to immerse myself into each play. Unfortunately, this was the case in some of the plays, with some pieces certainly less effective. This resulted in a struggle to connect with a few of the characters, perhaps due to their short time on stage.
However, what this format does allow for is a fast-paced piece that certainly many will enjoy. The show provides a perfect platform for the two young actresses to showcase their talents. Fully committing to each character, we see them transform into different women with ease, convincingly switching their accents and mannerisms throughout the show.
The show is described by its writer, Anthony Clark as “charting the experience of different women from childhood to old age” – Because of this, I had hoped and expected this would be a piece that would resonate with me, particularly with the knowledge all of these experiences would be told from the view of women in their twenties. However, I felt this show lacked relatability at times. Having seen some powerful shows recently that captured the essence of womanhood and my own personal opinions exceptionally accurately, I couldn’t hep but feel slightly let down.
Lynette and Ladha, do well in their portrayals of different women. Ladha’s depiction of a distressed woman in her mid-twenties at a cross road in their lives, torn between their passions and the need for money, is instantly recognisable. However, in many cases the writing of these character does let the actresses down, again restricting many of these stories to resonate with the audience. In one scene we see two women enact a séance with old clothes of their mothers. The outlandish storyline feels jarring against the poignant sincerity the actresses bring to what could be relatable characters.
An interesting detail included in Jessica Curtis’ set design, is how each pieces title is incorporated into the set. Whether that be by lipstick writing sprawled across a mirror or a word embroidered on a Babygro. Otherwise, the set design is simple, but acts well as the backdrop to the first piece, a cosy flat littered with the chaos a new born baby creates. Designing a set that fits with 7 different stories is a challenge, but Curtis does well in designing a set that acts as a blank canvas that the two actresses are able to quickly make slight amendments to in between each story in a dynamic and pacey way.
The final story we see is certainly fun to watch; Lynette And Ladha are really able to showcase their comedic talents as they play drama students, impersonating the elderly battling with memory loss. It’s a nice way to end the play as throughout the final piece, all the characters that have come before are mentioned, reinforcing the idea that one woman’s life and experience is made up of all the women they meet and are influenced by across the stages of their life. I can’t help feel however, that the comedic nature of this final story undermines the richness of this collection of stories that writer Anthony Clark is trying to achieve, by simply impersonating the elderly in seemingly mocking way, we lose some of the attempt to chart the journey of a woman’s life in an effective way.
That being said, SHE is still a funny and enjoyable piece to watch, with the two young actresses playing 14 different characters a joy to witness. However, whilst I was expecting to see a rich tableau of female experience, I did feel a little disconnected from some of the female characters. However, Ladha and Lynette perform with an abundance of charisma and energy that still make this show a lovely way to spend a few hours.
SHE plays at Tara Theatre until 11th February 2023 before embarking on a tour of the UK, tickets available here- https://taratheatre.com/whats-on/she/