Saturday, 1 September 2012

Good Women

It seems pretty clear that the traditional actor's complaint that "there are no good parts for women" has become untrue in Scotland. Recent months have seen The Guid Sisters - The NTS making good on the promise of their earlier all-female special, The House of Bernarda Alba - She-Town up in Dundee and Alison Peeble's searing My Shrinking Life. There was even a one woman special at The Oran Mor, The Great Disappointment of Santa Muerta, written and performed by the always imaginative Amanda Monfrooe.

Although The Guid Sisters was originally written in a French Canadian dialect, it has become something of a Scots classic: the translation went straight into Scots and, despite having some awkward edges - it's never clear why a bunch of Scottish ladies would have fancy French names or be so horrified by the thought of a club where people like to drink - picks up on the same cheeky energy of that genuinely home-spun classic, The Steamie. Praised for its representation of working class life, and respect for the strong female characters, The Guid Sisters acts as handy showcase for the wealth of wonderful Caledonia female actors.

My Shrinking Life is a deeply personal piece that sees Peebles grapple with the consequences of MS: unlike The Guid Sisters, it emphasises a stunning central performance (Peebles is brilliantly cynical, and even throws down a few of those Chekov and Shakespeare lines, just to prove she can). It's the same in Santa Muerta: the power of the actor defines the impact of the work. The Guid Sisters had a few star turns - that one out of Chewing The Fat - but was mostly all about the ensemble. In fact, it would be unfair to pick out one or two names as exceptional when the play is predicated on each character being revealed through their interactions with the others.

At this point, I probably ought to make some ridiculous statement about how things have gone too far the other way, and that men aren't getting their share. As it goes, there are still more male authors and directors knocking about, and equality is probably still a distance away. Instead, I'll make another sly dig at those directors who pick Shakespeare - if there was less Shakespeare on stage, they'd be more good roles for women - and vaguely wonder whether the very idea of talking about "male" and "female" theatre is even relevant.

Santa Muerta and My Shrinking Life are both very personal works, but the issues they raise are not insular. They share a preoccupation with death - one's concerned with the denial of it, the other with its inevitability - and range across various emotions that are not necessarily limited to the artist's life.

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